Former Bookkeeper In Marion County Took More Than $35,000 From Whitwell High School

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The former bookkeeper at Whitwell High School in Marion County pocketed at least $35,332 in cash collected for school activities, an investigation by the comptroller’s office has found. 

Lois Vandergriff, the former bookkeeper, used several methods to conceal the theft of the money, officials said.  These included exchanging checks collected from school activities to replace some of the missing cash and providing false and inconsistent information to school staff, administrators and auditors.

Investigators from the comptroller’s office shared their findings with the local district attorney general. Earlier this year, the Marion County Grand Jury indicted Vandergriff on one count of theft over $10,000 and one count of vandalism.

Investigators also learned that Vandergriff had issued school checks totaling more than $5,977 to herself, with documentation on purchases for only $2,700 of that amount. The documented expenses included a number of questionable items such as dog food, dog treats, cigarettes and soft drinks. Investigators could not determine if the documented purchases were for legitimate school needs. 

Vandergriff also issued $902.42 in checks to her son, ostensibly for yard work and reimbursement for items purchased on behalf of the school. Investigators couldn’t determine if all of those expenses were for the school’s benefit.

The investigative report, which was released Tuesday, outlined other concerns about the school’s money-handling and recordkeeping practices.

Vandergriff was allowed to handle all aspects of financial transactions, from receiving money to keeping accounting records to depositing money in the bank. Best practices in accounting suggest that those duties be divided among multiple employees so those employees can check each other’s work. said officials. 

Also, school faculty members didn’t keep accurate and complete records of the money they were turning over to the bookkeeper following events, said officials.

School officials indicated they have made changes that address the deficiencies highlighted by investigators. 

“Fraud, waste or abuse of public money is never acceptable, but it’s particularly troublesome when that money would have benefited schoolchildren,” Comptroller Justin P. Wilson said. “I’m encouraged that school officials are taking steps to correct the problems we identified. That should reduce the chances of something like this happening there again.”

To view the investigation online, go to: http://www.comptroller.tn.gov/ia/

If you suspect fraud, waste or abuse of public money in Tennessee, call the comptroller’s hot line at 800.232-5454 or fill out a report online at http://www.comptroller.tn.gov/shared/safwa.asp.


Jordan Ternes, A Fugitive Wanted In 2 States For Child Rape, Is Captured In Bradley County

Bradley County Sheriff Eric Watson announced the capture of a fugitive wanted in two states.   Bradley County detectives, working with the United States Marshal’s Service, took Jordan William Ternes into custody on Monday, at a residence in the area of Lake Forest Middle School. Ternes was wanted in Florida and Washington for child rape. He was booked into the Bradley ... (click for more)

Senator Brian Kelsey Holds Hearings On Criminal Justice Reform

Senator Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) is presiding over hearings on Tuesday on reforming the criminal justice system in Tennessee. "We must keep the public safe and hold offenders accountable in a way that protects taxpayer dollars,” said Senator Kelsey. “Tennessee has not comprehensively evaluated the criminal justice system in over twenty years. We can learn from other states ... (click for more)

Dirt Decision At Camp Jordan May Come Back To Haunt East Ridge Councilmen

Wow. I thought the arrival of Bass Pro Shop would help bring East Ridge back to a position of prominence in the Chattanooga area, but the Council proved otherwise last night.  To the council - There is a reason that the developers want that dirt: It's valuable . You currently own it and the developer wants it. Bass Pro has already agreed to set up shop. They were going ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: Goodbye To My Scooter

The month of August turned out to be unkind, with my dog, my favorite aunt and my magnificent mother all dying within three weeks’ time. As I finally begin to push out the three newest dents in my soul, my habit has been to write something akin to a goodbye note to those I have loved. I’m not ready for Aunt Martha and Mother yet – not by a stretch -- but I remembered Scooter with ... (click for more)

Baylor Ends Big Week With Win Over GPS

The Baylor volleyball team probably doesn't get many days off during the week in midseason, but they earned a day off on Tuesday following a long and successful stretch in the last eight days. The Lady Red Raiders, won 10 of 11 matches in the last eight days, including a big win over arch-rival GPS on the road Monday night.  As a result, coach Sarah Lail urged her girls ... (click for more)

UTC's Hudson Named Special Teams Player Of The Week

University of Tennessee at Chattanooga senior Tommy Hudson is the Southern Conference Special Teams Player of the Week, the league office announced today.  Hudson scored twice in the Mocs 42-6 win at Austin Peay on Saturday .  Hudson returned three punts for 65 yards, including a 58-yard touchdown in the third quarter.  That added to his 33-yard receiving ... (click for more)