Pauline Johnston, 37, of Heber Springs has been accused of embezzling over $15,000 from the Arkansas for Gifted and Talented Education (AGATE) program at Heber Springs Elementary School. Johnston was treasurer for the organization as well as treasurer for the local Girl Scouts, from which she is also alleged to have embezzled money.
On February 26, Heber Elementary Principal John Mueller contacted the Heber Springs Police Department to advise them of the incident. According to official reports, Johnston informed Alison Carr and Melissa Buffalo, co-presidents of the AGATE program, that she intended to move to Louisiana by the end of the school year and would no longer be treasurer for the organization. As Carr and Buffalo began the process of replacing Johnston, they discovered a “large cash deposit” from the Christmas fundraiser had not been deposited into the AGATE bank account. Upon further investigation, they also learned that recent cash withdrawals totalling $400 had also been made from the account. Carr reported confronting Johnston about the missing cash deposit. Johnston allegedly told car that the amount of the check from the Christmas fundraiser was $3000 and it had been stolen from her home.
An investigator from the Heber Police Department visited Johnston’s home and requested the accounting books for the AGATE program. The investigator reported that several checks had been cashed against the account from the bank, usually in the amounts of $300 or $400. Johnston allegedly informed police that she needed the money to “feed her kids, pay an electric bill, and for Christmas presents.” When asked about the $3000, Johnston is reported to have told investigators that it was stolen from her home, but she didn’t report it to AGATE or the police. After further questioning about whether or not she had used any of the fundraiser money, she reportedly told investigators that she had taken $600. Approximately 30 minutes after questioning, Johnston agreed to meet Carr at the police station to return some of the money, at which point she gave Carr $3200 in cash.
Further investigation into the finances of the AGATE program revealed receipts showing over $1000 in cash, which were never deposited in the bank. On March 4, bank records were subpoenaed. More cash deposits were reported missing and more checks cashed against the account were discovered. The check register showed a deposit for over $2000 in November 2011, but bank records did not reflect that deposit having been made. By March 5, the total money unaccounted for from the AGATE program had reached $7678.
Investigation into the incident continued throughout March. From October 2011 to February 2013, it was determined that $15,139.81 had been taken from the AGATE program. “This is what we can prove is missing,” said one investigator. Johnston is reported to have told police that she took the money because of financial hardship, partially stemming from her husband’s job loss. According to official police reports, however, several photos existed of Johnston and her children “visiting a zoo and dining at restaurants while on trips to Louisiana, Mississippi, and Oklahoma City.” Johnston was arrested on March 27 and charged with felony theft of $5000 or less but greater than $1000. To date, she has reportedly paid back over $8000 of the missing money.
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Police report that the investigation of Johnston is ongoing and so details have been held about the case until now. They are still waiting for more subpoenaed records and will release more details as a follow up once that information becomes available.