A former school bookkeeper has now admitted to taking tens of thousands of dollars from school kids.
Antoinette Garcia, 45, pleaded guilty in U.S. Federal Court Wednesday to committing federal program fraud while she was an employee for Bernalillo Public Schools.
According to federal court documents Garcia now admits she stole up to $95,000 from the district over the last few years to pay her own bills and expenses.
News of the guilty plea Wednesday has some nearby residents reacting.
“I can’t believe that somebody would do something like that,” said Emma Ortiz of Bernalillo.
“It’s just totally wrong,” said Herman Martinez of Bernalillo.
The neighbors live near W.D. Carroll Elementary and La Escuelita Pre-Schools in Bernalillo, where the fraud is said to have occurred.
Garcia’s case first hit headlines in April 2016, when the New Mexico State Auditor’s Office launched an investigation into Bernalillo Public Schools after allegations that district funds were missing.
According to the forensic audit related to the case, the district first noticed there was a problem and started investigating once vendors started calling, saying they weren’t getting paid. Account funds were also thought to be off, and a bookkeeper was said to have been late on financial documents.
Garcia was accused by name more than a year later, in May 2017. The forensic audit of the district’s finances at W.D. Carroll Elementary and La Escuelita Pre-School showed tens of thousands of dollars were missing from the school’s general account and parent-teacher organization accounts. Garcia was said to be the bookkeeper for the two schools.
Bernalillo Schools fired Garcia in 2016, shortly after the investigation into the missing funds began.
Federal investigators say Garcia admitted to stealing between $40,000 and $95,000 between 2014 and 2015. Investigators say Garcia was writing checks to herself. According to the forensic audit, the bookkeeper was spending money on personal bills.
The missing money should have gone to classrooms. According to the forensic audit, some of that money was raised through school fundraisers.
A former school teaching assistant in an outside district, Emma Ortiz was among reacting to the outcome of the case Wednesday.
“I think it’s sad, it’s terrible, it’s wrong,” said Ortiz.
Citing personal experience, Oritz says a little money can go a long way in classrooms.
“A hundred dollars is a lot of money that can provide you know just any kind of school supplies, teachers are buying their own supplies for kids,” said Ortiz.
Garcia is still awaiting sentencing. She faces up to 10 years in federal prison and up to a $250,000 fine.
Garcia was previously indicted on fraud and embezzlement charges for allegedly stealing from a credit union where she used to work. However, Bernalillo Public Schools says it didn’t know about that case because Garcia completed a “diversion” program and avoided prosecution.
Bernalillo Schools did not respond to email and phone call requests for comment Wednesday. The district is currently on spring break.