An employee in the accounting department at Lusher Charter School embezzled $25,000 last school year by forging five checks she wrote to herself from the school’s bank account, according to an audit report obtained by The Lens.

The audit report doesn’t identify the “high ranking employee in the Business Office,” who was ultimately fired. Nor did Lusher CEO Kathy Riedlinger, though she did say the woman had worked at the school for three years.

She said the theft was reported to the New Orleans Police Department.

The audit says, “The total amount stolen is believed to be $25,000, and all was recovered from the dismissed employee.” Auditors recommended that the school keep a closer eye on its blank checks, and in January, the school did develop procedures to do so.

Riedlinger said the school “moved the checks into our safe. And the only people that have access to that are the CFO and me, the CEO.”

She credited the school’s procedures for detecting the theft. CFO Lynden Swayze “kept careful count of the checks” and “realized that several were missing.”

It took a few months for the school to get the money back, Riedlinger said.

This isn’t the first time a business employee has been accused of stealing from a charter school. In 2010, Kelly Thompson was sentenced to five years in prison for stealing $660,000 while business manager at Langston Hughes Academy.

Lusher’s auditors also cited the school for failing to record some financial transactions and failing to track its federal and state grant expenses. Charters must submit paperwork to the school board to be reimbursed for federal grants.

The school didn’t track $407,000 in federal grant expenses, according to the report, and it didn’t submit reimbursement requests to the parish school board for those costs. In the course of the audit, the school tracked and submitted those requests.

The school also had $243,000 recorded in grant reimbursements the previous school year, but that money actually wasn’t received. Auditors adjusted the school’s financial records to account for the discrepancy.

The school also missed its deadline to submit the audit to the Orleans Parish School Board. The report is dated Friday; it was due Sept. 30.

The report says the delay was caused by the amount of work it took to reconcile financial records.

Jessica Williams

Jessica Williams stays on top of the city's loosely organized collection of public schools, with a special emphasis on charter schools. In 2011 she was recognized by the Press Club of New Orleans for her...