Former Fairhaven Schools Employee Admits Stealing Over $100,000
FAIRHAVEN — A former Fairhaven Public School District employee has been convicted of larceny this week after admitting to stealing at least $100,000 from the district.
Christine Mitchell, 55, of New Bedford pleaded guilty to larceny charges on Tuesday, but due to a serious health condition was sentenced to serve five years on supervised probation, according to the Bristol County District Attorney's Office.
Mitchell had been an employee at Fairhaven public schools for more than 15 years, and was the business office manager at the time of the theft.
In October 2018, she took an unexpected medical leave.
During her absence, a variety of financial discrepancies was discovered, and officials confronted Mitchell upon her return to the office.
The D.A.'s office said she was unable to explain the discrepancies at the meeting, but before she was fired she handed over a resignation letter that ended "I'm so sorry."
A forensic audit later found a pattern of theft that totaled $100,785.
Mitchell stole $89,893 from the Student Activities funds and the preschool fund from 2015-2018, and also wrote herself unauthorized checks totaling $10,892 in 2011-2012.
She took the money by pocketing incoming cash and only depositing the checks, then manipulating internal records to cover her tracks.
According to the D.A.'s office, due to the cost of the audit and policy coverage, the school was unable to investigate Mitchell's activities prior to 2011.
The insurance policy covered the school department’s loss, but the school had to pay an out-of-pocket deductible of $1,000.
Mitchell pleaded guilty to larceny over $250 by a single scheme in New Bedford District Court.
Although she was sentenced to two years in the Bristol County House of Corrections, due to her current serious medical condition, the sentence was suspended for five years.
The defense argued that a jail sentence was effectively a death sentence based on her current state of health, although prosecuters noted that her behavior affected a public school, children who worked to raise money, and members of the Fairhaven community.
Mitchell will be on supervised probation for five years and was ordered to pay the school district $1,000 in restitution.
“I am pleased the defendant was held accountable for stealing a substantial amount of money from school department funds," said Bristol County District Attorney Thomas Quinn.
"This was a clear breach of trust to the town, the school committee, the children and the citizens of Fairhaven.”