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Police report adds details surrounding theft at Lusher

A New Orleans police report regarding embezzlement at Lusher Charter School provides more details regarding the theft of $25,000 last school year, including the name of the employee involved.

Accounting office employee Lauren Hightower, 30, forged the signature of Lusher Chief Executive Officer Kathy Riedlinger and others on six checks, according to the report released Friday to The Lens.

The theft at Lusher came to light through an audit report made public last week that said only that a “high ranking employee in the business office” embezzled the money. Lusher officials tightened their internal controls over blank checks in response to the theft.

Hightower has not been charged with a crime, and the investigation is ongoing, said New Orleans Police spokesman Officer Garry Flot.

Reached by phone Friday afternoon, Hightower declined to comment.

Riedlinger said Friday that the school reported the theft to the police, the district attorney and the legislative auditor, asking each to “pursue this to the fullest.”

The forged checks were discovered by the school’s Chief Financial Officer, Lynden Swayze.

According to the police report:

  • Swayze told police that Hightower initially told her she’d taken 11 checks and cashed one $5,000 check. Hightower then told Swayze that she shredded the 10 checks that were left.
  • Swayze requested copies of the school’s checks from Whitney Bank and found that Hightower had actually written out five checks to herself for $5,000 each, and an $800 check made payable to cash.
  • The checks showed forged signatures in the name of Riedlinger, Swayze, middle school principal Brenda Bourne, and high school principal Wiley Ates, according to Swayze’s rendering of the incident.
  • Police officers confiscated copies of the forged checks for evidence.
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