CATOOSA'S Former school finance director pleads guilty to theft

Friday, May 11th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TULSA, Okla. (AP) _ A former finance director for Catoosa Public Schools has admitted stealing $125,000 in school money and could face more than a year in federal prison.

The school district's superintendent says the theft significantly affected the school's finances and may have led to the defeat of an April bond issue.

Reamonell McElhaney, 47, pleaded guilty to the theft Thursday in federal court. She could face 15 to 21 months in prison when she is sentenced Aug. 10 by U.S. District Judge Sven Erik Holmes in Tulsa.

McElhaney's attorney said it's possible she will receive probation instead of prison time.

The former finance director allegedly took the money between April 1998 and March 2000, according to federal court records. She was responsible for budgeting, investing school district funds and maintaining the treasury of Catoosa Public Schools. She resigned at a July school board meeting after a report by the school's auditing firm.

The audit, which triggered an investigation by the FBI, pointed at shoddy record keeping, inadequate posting of appropriations and the treasurer's full control over financial matters without sufficient checks and balances.

McElhaney admitted Thursday that she took cashier's checks drawn upon the Catoosa Public Schools general fund account at the Bank of America and deposited them into her personal account at Tulsa Teachers Credit Union. She admitted routing six cashier's checks, the largest of which was for $55,000.

Catoosa Superintendent Darrell Gwartney said Thursday that McElhaney had been his trusted ``right hand'' and that is would be ``just desserts'' if she goes to prison for betraying the district.

``This has been unsettling all the way through,'' he said.

Gwartney said McElhaney already has paid the district $9,000 in restitution and that her bond company paid $100,000.

The superintendent said the district now employs an assistant treasurer as part of an effort to improve oversight of the financial director. Gwartney said it could take two years before district's finances recover from McElhaney's tenure.