A Scottsdale Unified School District employee who police say has a gambling habit was arrested late last week on suspicion of forging checks and embezzling more than $300,000 from a district bank account.
Janet Winkler Rice, 59, an assistant to the district’s legal counsel, was arrested Friday after Scottsdale police executed a search warrant at her home and seized documents that point to $307,000 in losses to the district, police said.
“It appears as though this was all done to finance a gambling problem that was extreme and destructive,” said Scottsdale police Sgt. Mark Clark. “After reviewing her accounts to try to track down where the illicit proceeds went, it was discovered that funds were lost at local casinos to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
The district launched an investigation last week after its bank noticed an $18,000 check drafted on the district’s insurance trust account being deposited into Rice’s personal account.
The district draws from this account to pay employee insurance claims and legal claims against the school district, said Superintendent John Baracy.
It’s a separate account from the district’s operational ones, so classroom funds were not affected.
Rice’s job, which she has held since October 2003, involved accounting work for that fund and processing checks, Baracy said. However, she wasn’t authorized to sign any checks herself.
“What she was doing was forging the checks, doctoring the copies and intercepting the checks as they came in,” Baracy said.
The district has placed Rice on administrative leave pending termination.
After examining bank statements, Scottsdale police discovered approximately $325,000 worth of fraudulent checks written by Rice on a school insurance trust fund since 2005.
Since the $18,000 check was stopped before it was deposited, $307,000 was actually lost, Baracy said.
No employee claims were affected by the missing money, and the insurance trust account is insured so that all losses will be reimbursed, Baracy said.
The district also is working with external auditors to make sure no one else was involved and no other accounts were affected, Baracy said.
“It’s to ensure that we have not left any stone unturned, so to speak,” he said. “We feel that we have a handle on her elaborate scheme.”
Rice was booked into the Scottsdale City Jail, but later released on her promise to appear in court. Formal charges are pending upon receipt of certified bank statements and the district’s review of financial records from the last three years.
Other district employees were shocked and angry Thursday morning when they were told what happened, Baracy said.
Baracy said he didn’t know of any complaints about Rice prior to this incident.