A former treasurer accused by police of stealing more than $66,000 from Bak Middle School of the Arts could face a lawsuit from the county’s public school system if two school board members get their way.
Disappointed that the former treasurer was never arrested or charged criminally, Palm Beach County School Board members Frank Barbieri and Debra Robinson on Wednesday suggested going to civil court to try to recover money that police say vanished after the bookkeeper removed it from Bak Middle’s safe.
Cathleen Spring is accused of stealing $66,000 from the school over three years, removing the money bit by bit from more than 100 deposits placed in the school’s safe between 2012 and 2015, according to a police report.
School district detectives determined that Spring committed grand theft, petit theft and an organized scheme to defraud, going undetected for years as she stole away cash intended for student activities, according to a police affidavit.
But state prosecutors declined last year to take the case, saying that police’s findings amounted to “circumstantial evidence.”
State Attorney Dave Aronberg’s decision not to prosecute angered many educators, county residents and – evidently – at least two school board members.
At a board meeting Wednesday, Barbieri suggested going after Spring in court. Robinson seconded the suggestion.
“The other thing that I ask is that we look at suing that employee civilly that stole the $66,000,” Barbieri said.
“The burden of proof is beyond a reasonable doubt for criminal, but it’s a preponderance of the evidence for a civil suit,” he continued, “and I think we should sue civilly to recover the $66K because we certainly have a lot of evidence that that employee took the money.”
Spring — who resigned during the investigation — was the only school employee responsible for removing cash from the safe and depositing it in the school’s bank accounts.
In 108 cases, police say money vanished from deposits between the time that Spring removed them and when they were taken to the bank.
“Spring was the last individual to be in possession of these deposits later discovered missing,” school district police Detective Kevin McCoy wrote in an arrest report. “Defendant Spring never reported individual deposits missing, or documented on the drop-safe log these deposits were missing.”
But the collected evidence was not enough to pass muster with the state attorney’s public corruption unit, which dismissed it as circumstantial and said that detectives failed to prove conclusively that Spring had taken the money herself.
“In essence, the state would have to prove a negative, that no one else but Cathleen Spring could have stolen the money and that the 108 deposit envelopes actually contained the amounts recorded on them with Spring being the only one to count all the funds,” Assistant State Attorney Timothy Beckwith wrote in September.
“With the passage of time, and the lack of any direct evidence to support this conclusion,” he wrote, “the state cannot meet its burden.”
For the inability to prosecute the case, Beckwith blamed the school itself, saying that its financial controls were too lax.
Barbieri responded to that assertion with a few digs at Aronberg, saying that his office “ignored” evidence of multiple crimes.