By Shawn Raymundo
The Capistrano Unified School District Foundation’s former director accused of embezzling more than $42,000 from the nonprofit group’s accounts has been formally charged, according to a joint press release from the Orange County District Attorney and Orange County Sheriff’s Department on Tuesday, Aug. 27.
Michelle Colleen Hart, who ran the organization from mid-2014 to 2017, faces six felony counts of misappropriation or embezzlement of monies by a public officer for allegedly “writing checks to herself and making unauthorized purchases on the CUSDF bank card.”
A Certified Public Accountant was brought on to “review the foundation’s financial records in order to determine the scope of the loss,” the press release states. OCSD’s “Economic Crimes Detail investigated the case and turned it over to the District Attorney’s Major Fraud Unit for review.”
CUSDF, a nonprofit that helps fund the needs of the Capistrano Unified School District, filed a lawsuit against Hart nearly a year ago, accusing her of embezzling more than $50,000 from the foundation, The Capistrano Dispatch previously reported.
The DA’s office and OCSD said that Hart, who was arrested by the Fresno Police Department, is being held on $42,088.91 bail—the amount of money she is accused of embezzling.
“In order to post bail, she is required to prove that the funds she is using were not feloniously obtained,” the release stated.
According to news files, the lawsuit alleges that in or around December of 2017, Hart admitted to members of the foundation that she had misappropriated funds in excess of $50,000 over her three-year tenure as director and that she immediately resigned.
Court documents also state that Hart was promised $1,500 a month plus a 20% commission on all money raised for the foundation in exchange for 20 hours a week of work. By 2017, according to the documents, her compensation had risen to $5,000 a month with no commission.
A month after the lawsuit was filed, the local school district severed ties with the foundation amid concerns over the group’s management of funds it raised for CUSD.
Shawn Raymundo is the city editor for The Capistrano Dispatch. He graduated from Arizona State University with a bachelor’s degree in Global Studies. Before joining Picket Fence Media, he worked as the government accountability reporter for the Pacific Daily News in the U.S. territory of Guam. Follow him on Twitter @ShawnzyTsunami and follow The Dispatch @CapoDispatch.