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Ukiah school cafeteria worker charged with embezzling lunch money

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A Ukiah elementary school cafeteria worker has been charged with embezzling lunch money.

Stephanie Guzman, 42, of Potter Valley was charged Tuesday with grand theft and felony embezzlement, the Ukiah Police Department reported Wednesday.

The amount of the alleged theft from the Yokayo Elementary School cafeteria has not been determined, but is believed to be limited to several thousand dollars, school officials said in a statement.

It is the second embezzlement reported by the Ukiah Unified School District this year. In January, district officials said they suspected a former adult school employee had embezzled some $90,000 over three years. There was insufficient evidence in that case, and the employee was not prosecuted.

The more recent alleged theft was discovered by a district employee who noticed that cafeteria sales reported at Yokayo Elementary School were less than at other schools in the district, school officials said. The discovery led to an investigation.

It appears that small amounts of cash were taken a few times a week, school officials said.

School district Superintendent Deb Kubin said the district already was making accounting changes in the lunch program to make sales more secure when the cash discrepancies were discovered.

Changes include an online program that allows parents to add money to their children’s lunch accounts, reducing the amount of cash handled at the schools, Kubin said. It also displays photos of children when they buy food. At some schools, students will enter an identification number into a keypad when they make purchases.

The district also has been educating employees about fraud detection and will implement a fraud prevention tip line, Kubin said.

Employees already are screened and fingerprinted before hiring to reduce the chances of a crime being committed, she said.

“We do all we can to dissuade employees from bad choices, but sometimes they make them anyway,” Kubin said.

You can reach Staff Writer Glenda Anderson at 462-6473 or glenda.anderson@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @MendoReporter.

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