The finance manager of a Santa Rosa charter school will face charges Thursday of embezzling nearly $400,000 to support a prescription narcotics habit, Santa Rosa police officials said Wednesday.
Sheila Accornero is suspected of <NO1><NO>writing checks to herself and hiding money through accounting techniques during the five years she managed the books for the Kid Street Learning Center Charter School on Davis Street, Sgt. Michael Lazzarini said.
"It appears that all the money went to drugs," said Lazzarini, who runs the property crimes unit. "That's a huge habit. And just with the sheer quantity found at the time of her arrest .<TH>.<TH>. . She had a lot with her."
Accornero, 42, the school's finance and business manager, was arrested Tuesday afternoon at the school and is being held without bail on suspicion of embezzlement, forgery and burglary.
She had prescription narcotics, including Vicodin and hydrocodone, in her possession, a violation of her probation for a prior drug related-conviction in 2009, police officials said.
Kid Street Executive Director Linda Conklin held an emergency board meeting Wednesday afternoon at the school's Lincoln Arts Center building to tell her directors about Accornero's arrest.
"I'm just in shock," Conklin said before the meeting. "Everybody in the whole house is in shock."
Standing beside board President Kay Smith, Conklin promised a "forensic accounting" of the school's books and said Kid Street will start its school year on Monday as scheduled. The school, designed to help families "living in extreme crisis," including homelessness, is expected to enroll 50 students in first through sixth grade.
Conklin said the charter school has insurance that should help cover losses from stolen funds.
Asked how Accornero could have taken money without anyone noticing, Conklin responded, "We've had audits every year and they've been clean."
Lazzarini said school officials were unaware of the fraud when investigators Tuesday asked them to look over the books for evidence of embezzlement.
"Annual reports never showed any discrepencies, but that's consistent with embezzlement cases," Lazzarini said. "She'd write checks to herself and forge the administrator signatures."
Investigators received a tip several weeks ago suggesting they look into the 42-year-old Cloverdale woman's "financial lifestyle," Lazzarini said.
School officials, after being alerted by detectives Tuesday morning, noticed checks for large sums, as much as $20,000 and $30,000 in two instances, written to Accornero, Lazzarini said.
I<NO1><NO>nvestigators uncovered $400,000 in funds channeled to Accornero dating as far back as three years ago. They suspect they may find more misappropriated funds with a more detailed examination of the accounting books.
"That was on the surface without digging, so there could be other hidden money," Lazzarini said. "There's a lot of bookkeeping that has to be examined."
The charter elementary school was established in 1999 to serve an average of about 50 students with troubled backgrounds and family situations. Some students live in homeless shelters or group homes and many have been referred by Child Protective Services.
As a charter, Kid Street is a state-funded public school overseen by the Santa Rosa City Schools District, but it also receives other grants and donations.
The suspected loss would represent a significant portion of the annual revenue received by the charter school's parent organization, Kid Street Learning Center Inc.
The group received $409,000 from government grants, including state education funds, and another $206,000 in other donations, for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2010, according to its federal IRS filing.