A long-serving Texas border school district clerk pleaded guilty Wednesday to stealing more than $332,000 from school cafeteria concession sales on four campuses over a six year period.
Leticia Arreola, 38, admitted to pocketing cash from cafeteria concession sales at four Brownsville Independent School District (ISD) campuses between at least 2010 through January 2016, according to U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson. She used her position as an accounting clerk in the school district’s Food and Nutrition Services Division to embezzle $332,571.46 from Faulk Elementary, Brownsville Early College High School (BECHS), Brownsville Learning Academy (BLA), and the Brownsville Academic Center (BAC). The scheme fell apart when she could not produce receipts for the student snack bar items.
The woman pleaded guilty on May 1 to a one-count criminal information complaint (attached below), in which she was accused of the theft from Brownsville ISD’s federally subsidized food and nutrition program. According to grand jury documents from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas, Brownsville ISD receives over $10,000 per year to help provide cafeteria meals, often breakfasts and lunches, to the school district’s predominantly impoverished student population.
School food and nutrition programs operate under the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and are administered on a state level by the Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA). The district also gets cash payments from students for concession food items such as ice cream and cookies.
School districts follow strict procedures on how they deliver, deposit, and account for cash proceeds from their nutrition programs. These monies must be placed in a deposit bag and then delivered on a daily or weekly basis via armored car to the school district’s affiliated bank.
According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, there were times when the Brownsville ISD schools would miss their scheduled time to provide the deposits to the armored car. In those instances, the deposit bags were delivered to Arreola who then purportedly stole the money, which she allegedly used for living expenses, vacations, entertainment and shopping.
“Eventually, Arreola was able to arrange for cash deposits from Faulk Elementary, BECHS, BLA and the BAC to be delivered directly to her. When money came in from these schools, she would simply take the money out of the deposit bags and place them in her purse until she left at the end of her work-day. Ultimately, Arreola was asked to provide documentation about the receipt of money from these schools over time and she was unable to do so,” according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
As a school district employee, Arreola earned approximately $20,000 a year, according to the court documents. However, her bank account records over the six year period showed she deposited more than $48,000 in 2010, $46,538 in 2011, $35,561 in 2012, more than $63,000 in both 2013 and 2014, then $71,532 in 2015 and, finally, $4,712 in 2016 all before the Brownsville police and FBI caught up with her.
Arreola may not have been the only employee the school district had under investigation, although the school district declined to comment in February after Silverio Capistran, Jr., Brownsville ISD’s Food and Nutrition Services administrator appeared to commit suicide. The Brownsville Herald reported Capistran’s body was found with what appeared to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. He was employed with the school district since 2000 and acted as the food services administrator since 2012. At the time of his death, Capistran was on administrative leave with pay since late January, according to Brownsville ISD spokeswoman Drue Brown.
Arreola is free on $30,000 bail, according to Courthouse News Service. The plea deal (attached below) recommended she be sentenced “to the bottom of the advisory guideline level. The maximum penalty is 10 years in federal prison followed by three years of supervised release, and a fine up to $250,000. She will not be eligible for parole during her prison term. Her sentencing is set for August 31.
Last week, the school district issued a statement:
Brownsville ISD takes any allegations of misappropriation of resources seriously. Regarding the recent Food and Nutrition Services Department issues, BISD officials immediately contacted the appropriate external law enforcement agencies when it was discovered that possible criminal activity had occurred. The school district also launched its own internal administrative investigation and has fully cooperated with the various external criminal investigations. BISD will support prosecuting individuals to the full extent of the law if it is determined that illegal activity has occurred. Leticia Arreola was terminated by Brownsville ISD on March 24, 2016. She originally began working for the school district on February 22, 1999.
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