The former treasurer of the Stepney Elementary School Parent Teacher Organization in Monroe has been arrested, accused of embezzling more than $45,000 from the school organization and using it to pad her bank account and pay for a Disney World vacation, among other things, according to police.
Police said they obtained a warrant for Sarah Chiarelli, a 34-year-old stay-at-home mother with three young children, on Wednesday after a lengthy investigation and she turned herself in on Thursday morning.
Authorities started investigating on March 18 when they received a complaint from administrators in the Monroe School District and members of the Stepney Elementary School PTO who reported discrepancies in the PTO bank accounts.
At the time, PTO members were questioning more than $10,000 in expenditures, but detectives conducted an audit of the banking accounts, which showed that Chiarelli made 226 illegitimate transactions, in the amount of just over $45,000 over several years, police said.
Chiarelli, who is also a past president of the PTO, is accused of using the PTO funds to pay household expenses and fund a Disney World vacation. She is also accused of withdrawing more than $14,000 in cash and close to $10,000 in checks, some of which were made out in her name and deposited into her personal banking account.
Police said Chiarelli was the only person with access to the PTO banking accounts and admitted to misappropriating PTO funds for her own use, but substantially underestimated the dollar amount she took.
Supt. Jim Agostine said PTOs are independent organizations, so the funds were separate from public education fund.
"But we do stand ready to support the Stepney PTO and all our PTOs as we go through this very unfortunate incident," he said.
Soon after the embezzlement allegations were reported to police, Chiarelli moved to Hicksville, New York, but her attorney remained in contact the Monroe Police Department to ensure she surrendered herself for arrest when an arrest warrant was issued, police said.
After police notified Chiarelli’s attorney about the arrest warrant charging her with first-degree larceny; illegal furnishing of money, goods or services on credit card; and illegal use of a credit card, she turned herself in at the Monroe Police Department at 7 a.m. on Thursday.
She has no prior arrest record, according to officials.
Bond was originally set at $50,000, but the defense attorney asked for a smaller bond because restitution will likely need to be paid and the judge reduced it to a $3,800 cash bond.
"Restitution is always going to be an issue to dispose of the case, so as a result, we’d rather be able to apply that money to a victim’s fund rather than giving it to a bondsman," defense attorney Tina Sypek D’Amato said.
School officials said they have been working with police and PTOs to figure out a system so that this does not happen again and one person doesn’t have access to all PTO accounts.
Chiarelli is due back in court on June 17.