A DFW-area school district is aiding federal investigators after allegations that the district’s former CFO stole hundreds of thousands in federal funds from the district while employed there.
Carolyn Foster of Lewisville, 61, was arrested Monday on charges of stealing $600,000 from Grand Prairie Independent School District. She now faces up to 10 years in federal prison and fines totaling a maximum of $250,000.
“That someone serving in a position of authority of an organization whose job is to educate and nurture the children of our GPISD community would violate that sacred trust is unconscionable,” said GPISD Superintendent Dr. Susan Hull in a statement Tuesday.
Foster’s actions were discovered September 1, 2015 — the day after she left her CFO position at the GPISD. Two finance department employees, accountants Edie Ellis and Becky Harris, raised questions about certain documents related to the federal funds that seemed to have disappeared.
Their questions prompted further investigation, which revealed that Foster had withdrawn cash from district bank accounts, had the cash delivered via armored vehicles, and then accessed the cash from a vault within the school district’s administration building.
Foster told employees in the finance department that the cash would be used reimburse teachers for school supplies and to settle lawsuits against the school district outside of court. When local authorities and the U.S. Secret Service investigated these claims, however, they discovered no such lawsuits against the school.
Secret Service agents arrested Foster Monday in Richardson, Texas at the offices of her current employer, International Leadership of Texas (ILTexas). A statement from ILTexas emailed to DFW Mag claims that Foster’s contract with them was terminated as soon as they were notified of the arrest.
Foster appeared in federal court to hear charges of federal program theft, where she pled not guilty before being released on bond to face trial at a later date.
Many in the Grand Prairie community are questioning the school district, asking why it took almost a year after the discovery of Foster’s misconduct for authorities to arrest her. Others have come to GPISD’s defense. As one Facebook user Glenn Cato stated:
Investigating financial crimes is a complicated process. Identifying the fraudulent transactions from the appropriate ones and then document to prove up the case would be very time consuming. Most likely investigators culled through thousands of transactions to find those that were inappropriate. Avoiding premature release of information which could compromise the investigation most likely explains the timing.
Hull emphasized the timing of the district’s report to the authorities in her statement:
We are very proud of the two finance department employees whose commitment to public service and diligence in doing their jobs helped uncover Foster’s apparent misdeeds just one day after she left the district … and thanks to their work, we reported this matter to the Grand Prairie Police Department for investigation right away.
DFW Mag contacted Sam Buchmeyer, GPISD Public Information Officer for comment. Buchmeyer pointed to GPISD’s Tuesday media release, which states that GPISD has already taken steps to ensure that no repeat of the situation can occur.
As CFO, Foster was allowed to change GPISD financial procedures without telling anyone, the media release says.
“The new procedures now require at least two district officials to be involved in any order for cash, with responsibilities rotating between officials monthly,” the release states, adding that there is also now a maximum permitted withdrawal amount, and required written approval from multiple superiors for any cash withdrawal.
Hull said in her statement that she and all of GPISD “deeply regret this apparent violation of the public trust by this former official.”
“The school board and I stand in strong support of the law enforcement and criminal justice community in this process,” Hull said, “and if these allegations are true, we urge that Carolyn Foster be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”