Woman arrested in theft from Fifth Ward Elementary

Published 11:04 am Wednesday, May 31, 2017

RESERVE — A Sorrento woman was arrested May 23 after local school officials discovered she had misappropriated a substantial amount of funds from Fifth Ward Elementary School.

Michelle Dennis, 51, of Sorrento, who worked as a bookkeeper at the school was booked with felony principal to theft, felony bank fraud, felony filing or maintaining false public records and felony injuring public records. She was released on $60,000 bond.

The St. John the Baptist Parish Sheriff’s Office received a complaint from the school administration in April in reference to internal theft. An internal audit by school officials discovered that Dennis allegedly stole about $16,600 through fraudulent, unauthorized credit card charges and misappropriation of internal school deposits from fundraisers and other school sales.

Through further investigation, Sheriff’s Office financial crimes detectives learned that Dennis had been stealing money from the school since 2015. Financial records and ledgers also had been altered, manipulated or falsified.

Based on the investigation, detectives obtained a warrant for Dennis’ arrest.

“This is an unfortunate incident, but I am proud that our internal system of checks and balances alerted administration to these discrepancies,” Superintendent Kevin George said. “We will not tolerate anyone stealing from our parents and students. We will discover it and we will see to it that those accused are reported to the appropriate authorities.”

Out of an abundance of caution, the school district plans to employ a certified forensic accountant to examine the finances at each of its schools, in addition to the yearly compliance audits it already conducts, George said.