Two Charged in Hermitage PTO Theft

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Two Hermitage women turned themselves in Thursday morning after being charged with stealing more than $35,000 from the Hermitage Parent Teacher Organization.

Gina Grata, 45, of 293 Butterfly Lane, and Kelly Vocaire, 41, of 158 N. Buhl Farm Drive, have been charged with theft and two counts of conspiracy. According to an affidavit, Hermitage PTO secretary Teresa Trontel, Artman Elementary School PTO treasurer Nichole Hamelly and Hermitage Schools Superintendent Daniel Bell reported that Grata, the PTO president, embezzled $10,180.50 and Vocaire, the organization’s treasurer, embezzled $25,019.91 from the organization’s checking account between June 2012 and April of this year.

The affidavit states Hamelly noticed discrepancies when she took office in August and asked to see the PTO’s executive books, but neither Grata nor Vocaire complied with repeated requests. She and Trontel then obtained bank statements and with the help of middle school treasurer David Speir, they found copies of numerous cancelled checks issued by Grata and Vocaire made payable to themselves, but no invoices could be found to match the checks.

The affidavit states Grata wrote 13 unauthorized checks to herself, while Vocaire issued 64 of them. Trontel and Hamelly said PTO policy and the bank’s signature card require the president and treasurer to both sign each check, and both of them did sign the unauthorized checks.

Police said during a May 1 interview, Grata admitted stealing between $7,000 and $8,000 from the PTO using eight checks. She said she first approached Vocaire in August and asked to borrow $1,500 from the PTO to pay a personal bill and received a check for that amount.

Grata said she later tried giving the money back to Vocaire, but Vocaire would not accept it, saying an unexplained deposit on the books would raise suspicion. Grata said she received more checks from Vocaire upon request to pay bills and other “stuff” and she told Vocaire she was going to make a deposit on her own to pay back the loans, but Vocaire said she could not do so because Grata was not the treasurer.

Grata told police she was “just too scared” to do or say anything at that point and she acknowledged that she and Vocaire often signed a large amount of blank checks for convenience, the affidavit states. Grata denied altering or hiding any records to cover up her theft and denied knowing if Vocaire also was stealing money in the same fashion.

Police said Vocaire declined to be interviewed even after she obtained legal counsel.

On May 13, Hamelly told police her updated records search revealed a total of 65 checks totaling $25,127.91 used fraudulently by Vocaire, with four additional checks totaling $935.74 still in question. On May 20, Hamelly said there was a total of 68 checks used fraudulently by Vocaire totaling $25,298.66.

The affidavit states that some of the checks were cashed and others were deposited.

Both suspects were released on a $10,000 bond and are due back in court June 6.

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