CA: Radford High employee embezzled more than $250K from schools, students over 10 years

Lenora Williams, the previous director of food services, passed away in late 2017 (Mullins Funeral Home & Crematory)

RADFORD, Va. (WSET) -- The Radford City Commonwealth's Attorney said Virginia State Police has concluded an investigation that revealed a long-time employee, that recently passed away, embezzled more than a quarter-million dollars from the school system.

Lenora Williams, the previous director of food services, passed away in late 2017.

Chris Rehak, the Commonwealth's Attorney, said it became evident that taxpayer money had been used to make hundreds of unauthorized purchases from an account controlled and supervised by Williams.

The school released a statement Monday, May 14 saying division administration first discovered irregularities in October 2017 and promptly contact local law enforcement, state police, the School Board's legal counsel, and the School Board's auditor.

On the advice of the Board’s auditor, administration also contacted the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Office of Inspector General to discuss whether and to what extent the former employee may have appropriated for personal use free and reduced lunch funds provided by the federal government.

After analyzing the account, investigators determined that in the past 10 years $173,366.24 of unapproved charges were made on a debit card from the account, $11,804.84 in unapproved checks written from the account, and $76,123.66 was missing from cafeteria money deposits.

The grand total of money embezzled by Williams was $261,295.24, according to the investigation and new audit reports, Rehak announced.

Rehak also said debit card receipts include expenses Williams made at Amazon, Shentel, Walmart, Kroger, restaurants, gas stations, resorts, and even for her utilities, and taxes.

He said she embezzled by falsifying audit reports, taking money from student meal plans, and inflating numbers for the free and reduced lunch program.

The school said their investigation implicated the involvement of Williams only and did not identify any other Radford City Schools employee to be involved.

Rehak said he believes the decade-long systematic theft was preventable.

"On top of negligent record management, lackadaisical security measures, and careless accounting efforts, the more troubling part of the saga may rest in disregarded warning," Rehak wrote in a statement. "The working environment in 2010 was such that cafeteria staff members felt uncomfortable reporting unusual gifts and expenditures by Williams for fear of losing their jobs."

One employee finally came forward.

In 2010, Rehak said several school administrators had a meeting with cafeteria staff and learned that Williams might be mismanaging money, but officials dismissed the concern and didn't contact police.

Rehak said the majority of the embezzlement appears to have happened after that meeting.

The school said the facts relating to the cafeteria fund theft were never identified or reported to administration or the school board before October 2017.

"Williams was bold enough to have incriminating monthly bank records sent directly to the Radford City School Board Office where this mail was unopened and routed back to her," Rehak wrote. "The lack of internal controls has since been corrected."

School officials said contrary to Rehak's opinion, administration was unaware of any reliable and verifiable facts that proved there was any embezzlement.

"Additionally, before Radford City Commonwealth’s Attorney released his May 14, 2018 media statement with his conclusory opinion regarding the embezzlement of cafeteria funds, he did not interview or communicate with any member of administration or with the School Board to discuss the facts, the school division’s investigative findings, or his conclusions," their statement read.

Rehak said he felt he had a duty to share the case with the public because they have a right to know it happened on his watch.

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