Updated: 04/18/2013 8:27 AM KSTP.com By: Mark Albert
The treasurer of a north metro Parent-Teacher Organization is accused of stealing nearly $55,000 in funds raised by parents, relatives, and friends that would have gone to pay for programs to benefit children, including the woman's own three kids.
Melissa J. O'Brien, 31, is charged with felony theft by swindle and made her first court appearance Wednesday. Through her attorney, O'Brien has declined to comment. A message left in person at her home Monday was not returned.
The theft began, prosecutors say, just one month after O'Brien took over as treasurer of the Oxbow Creek Elementary School PTO in August 2012, where O'Brien's children attend.
During the next four months, O'Brien signed or forged checks to herself, her husband, and her mother; withdrew $11,000 in cash; and set up electronic withdrawals to pay her personal bills, the complaint alleges.
"I don't know how you cannot be angry," wondered Oxbow Elementary PTO president Darla Noah.
"It's a betrayal to everybody at the school," she added.
O'Brien "admitted to stealing money from the PTO" and explained to an investigator the "several schemes" she used to carry out the thefts, according to the investigator's description of his interview with O'Brien.
The money would have been used, said Noah, to pay for music programs, an explorer dome to teach children about astronomy, and the Minnesota Zoo mobile.
Instead, the school will cover the expenses by taking money from other areas, Noah said.
"You feel stupid in one sense that you didn't know it; why couldn't you find that out; why didn't you see it coming?" Noah explained in an interview at her home Monday. "And just the hard work that so many parents and kids have done at the school. You know, it just puts you at a loss."
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman, whose office is prosecuting O'Brien, as well as her husband, Dustin J. O'Brien, declared, "I want them to do some time. If nothing else, then to send a symbol to everyone else - don't rip off your kids' organization."
Freeman said his prosecutor will press for six to nine months jail time in the Hennepin County workhouse and full restitution.
"This is the kind of crime that will make you sad; sad because it's preventable and sad because they're ripping off kids," Freeman said.
The PTO hopes to make up some of the loss at its annual carnival fundraiser at the school in Champlin this Friday, April 19, 2013, from 6-8:30pm.
Admission is $5 and game tickets are just a quarter.