Office manager pleads guilty to stealing $100K from Fairhaven student funds

SE Mass

NEW BEDFORD, Mass. (WPRI) — A former Fairhaven Public School Department employee pleaded guilty this week to embezzling more than $100,000 from student activities funds between 2015 and 2018.

Christine E. Mitchell, 55, of New Bedford, was convicted of larceny over $250 by a single scheme, according to the office of Bristol County District Attorney Thomas M. Quinn III. A judge sentenced her to serve two years at the Bristol County House of Corrections.

But since Mitchell has been suffering from a serious disease for which she had to take medical leave from her job, Judge Patrick J. Malone ruled the sentence would be suspended for five years and she’ll be on supervised probation for that time. Any additional crime committed by Mitchell would send her to jail for the two-year term.

Mitchell was an employee of the school department for more than 15 years, the DA’s office said. When she went on medical leave in October 2018, school officials discovered discrepancies in the finances.

An accounting firm’s forensic audit found Mitchell stole $89,893 from the funds for student activities and preschool while working as an office manager. She also wrote herself unauthorized checks totaling $10,892 between 2011 and 2012. Prosecutors said she’d manipulated internal records to cover up her theft.

When school officials confronted her, Mitchell had no explanation, but submitted a letter of resignation in which she apologized, according to the DA’s office.

“This was a clear breach of trust to the town, the school committee, the children, and the citizens of Fairhaven,” Quinn said in a statement Friday.

A school department insurance policy covered the money she stole, except for a $1,000 out-of-pocket deductible. The judge ordered Mitchell to pay the school department $1,000 to cover that deductible.

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