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Sheriff: 3 Ex-BCSD Program Employees Face Felonies

The Putnam County Sheriff's Office provided the following information. It does not indicate a conviction.

Officials have arrested a 36-year-old woman and her parents—all former employees of a  (BCSD) child care program—in connection with the theft of roughly $130,000.

According to a report released Monday morning by the district and the , the investigation began about eight months ago, "after a routine review by the school district’s business office uncovered discrepancies in the financial records." The inconsistencies were reportedly limited to funds associated with a before and after-school child care program at .

Officials say that Superintendent Dr. Jane Sandbank notified authorities at the Sheriff's Office of the missing funds in the spring. Investigator Michael Nalbone of the agency's Bureau of Criminal Investigation took the lead on the case.

In January, officials arrested Brandi Wickliffe, 36, who they say surrendered herself. She was charged with second-degree grand larceny, a felony. Officials say she allegedly stole more than $115,000 in program revenue. 

Wickliffe's parents, Newburgh residents Eric and Debra Thompson, both 62, reportedly surrendered themselves on Thursday. They are accused of stealing about $15,000 in "overpaid salary by collecting the money for services that were not actually performed," according to police. Each is facing a felony charge of third-degree grand larceny.

The release did not specify the duration of employment with the BCSD program for any of the three defendants. Sandbank said Monday afternoon that the defendants had been running the program for years. Both Eric and Debra Thompson are retired Brewster teachers.

Wickliffe was arraigned before Village of Brewster Justice Richard O'Rourke. She was remanded to the Putnam County Correctional Facility on $10,000 cash bail or $30,000 bond. She later posted and was released pending a March 12 court appearance.

"Investigation revealed that she [Wickliffe] created her own bank account and deposited the money into it for her personal use," the release states. "It was further learned that she spent some of the money to pay for personal items, including a vacation to Disney World in Florida, a vacation at Lake George, food, gasoline, cell phone bills, rent, DVD rentals, insurance bills, entertainment tickets, haircuts, manicures and clothing purchases."

Debra Thompson also faces 12 counts of first-degree falsifying business records, all felonies. Police say those charges stem from "allegedly filing fraudulent payment vouchers with the school district resulting in the unlawful overpayment of their wages."

Both she and Eric Thompson were arraigned before Southeast Town Justice Gregory Folchetti and released without bail. They are due in court on April 3.

Officials say the child care program—which currently sees about 65 students in the kindergarten to middle school age range—has been in existence for more than two decades. It "was always intended to be financially self-sufficient with no taxpayer support. The program, funded by parent fees, was designed to function as a break-even program, in order to provide the community, at an affordable price, needed child care services outside of school hours."

"This program was subject to the district’s routine annual audits as required by law," Sandbank said in the release. "These audits never indicated any wrong doing. However, improvements in internal controls have been implemented throughout the District in order to make the occurrence of similar thefts unlikely in the future.”

The superintendent thanked members of the Sheriff's Office and the Putnam County District Attorney's Office for their work on the case. Sheriff Donald B. Smith also expressed his gratitude.

“This was a very difficult case for many reasons,” he said.
“Investigators worked for months to gather enough evidence enabling them to arrest three individuals suspected of embezzling much-needed revenue from a public school system and using the money for their personal gain. These types of crimes are not only time consuming to investigate, but are injurious to the rightful owner of the money and violate the public’s trust."

Cheryl Sacchetti March 05, 2012 at 03:05 PM
Very shocked about this. My kids went there 8 years ago. Sad to hear! If this is all true.
Karl Lebitsch March 05, 2012 at 03:12 PM
If they are receiving pensions from the BCSD, they should be made to forfeit the pension. This is just unbelievable.
Ashley Tarr (Editor) March 05, 2012 at 03:22 PM
Hi Karl. Thanks for the comment. Still looking into that, as the release states that they were employees of the specific program. Will let you know as soon as I do.
Diane March 05, 2012 at 10:47 PM
If the program is "financially self sufficient with no taxpayer support" then how are they "embezzling much needed public school money" ?!?! This family has done nothing but improve the Brewster school system. As a former after school attendee and bhs graduate I think this whole thing is absolute garbage!
buttons March 06, 2012 at 09:54 AM
they just got caught for recent theft with new controls. it most likely been going on for many years same as liebel .they improved there bank account on the backs of hard working parents. hows is it garbage.what they taught there daughter is the only garbage here!!!!!
buttons March 06, 2012 at 12:34 PM
what a surprise the school system audit found nothing but the mandated external audit uncovered the scam on the first go round. love the BCSD. lots of talent there.
Mona Halter March 06, 2012 at 04:06 PM
I am shocked! My son went there for five years (up to last year) and I believed they ran a very good after-school program. They were always very responsible, respectful and understanding. I can't believe it took that long to uncover this, what else is going on in the school system that needs to be uncovered?! Plus, I also wonder, how can it be self-sufficient, if there are excess funds? Did Brewster School pay them directly and at the same time, they were pocketing the parent's payments, didn't the school realize that there was a shortfall?
Laura March 06, 2012 at 07:25 PM
First, their district pensions should not be called in to question since the program is totally separate from district funds. Second, why hasn't someone questioned why the "internal" auditors never found anything weird? Did it ever occur to anyone that if money is missing, it is going missing when it gets to the district office? Perhaps other avenues should be explored before the community condemns an entire family that has done nothing but pledge their lives to the children of the Brewster community.
Karl Lebitsch March 06, 2012 at 08:24 PM
The problem I have is that they are accused of felonies from the same place that they are receiving pensions from. Totally separate program or not its from the same school district. You are right about the internal auditors, something doesn't jive because it should have been found in "routine" and required audits. The whole district should be under a complete audit of every account at a minimum. The investigation took quite sometime so I do not think a "rush to judgement" was made.
Cal March 07, 2012 at 02:42 AM
Karl makes a good point. If they have surrendered (Implying their guilt) then every penny of their BCSD/NYS pension should be given back to public school funds to payback every dime their family stole from trusting, hard-working families. Shame on you Thompsons, for tarnishing teachers and BCSD! Appalled and awe-struck.
Joe Zito March 07, 2012 at 12:19 PM
Just wondering-what other Department got ripped off maybe that's why schools closing everyone was dipping into the kitty
Charles March 10, 2012 at 05:59 AM
Surrendering doesn't imply guilt first off it means they turned themselves in after the warrant was issued without a fight or requiring other agencies to pick them up considering all parties live in different counties. Second they didn't rip off the school district they ripped off an after school program that is completely separate what does not funded by tax payers mean to you? The program maybe be affiliated because they worked for the school district however the pensions are not up for grabs you can't make anyone forfeit anything particularly from 62 year old who have served the district with great respect except for a moment of oppurtunity they will payback the money 150k is honestly not a shit ton of money compared to the kingston cop who took the city for upwards of 250k last year. I'm sure they will be punished accordingly but I think the larceny charges are a stretch. It's so frustrating that when ever a public worker is found doing something illegal everyone says take away their pension. If you were found driving drunk or doing drugs or stealing something then how would you feel if we took away your pension wrong is wrong but let's completely destroy their lives. She wanted to make a better life for her and her family and she was presented with an easy way of doing it and she took it. She made a mistake and she has to live up to it just by judging herself from the picture she's not looking like the proudest criminal.
buttons March 10, 2012 at 01:28 PM
Wow!!! 150 k is not a ton of money ? I mean it was just sitting there, so they just took it. Why not, it was easy. You don't just change at 62. They were never audited by any outside source until now and yes its been going on for years . Are you serious that's how you deter people from doing this, its called consequences. Not a slap on he wrist and pay it back if you get caught. Larceny charges are a stretch, are you kidding? If someone stole from you, you would be the first one to call for harsh punishment no doubt. Wake up !!!
Ashley Tarr (Editor) March 10, 2012 at 04:59 PM
Please refrain from using profanity in your posts, as outlined in our Terms of Use (http://southeast.patch.com/terms).
Southeaster March 30, 2012 at 06:37 AM
I cannot believe there are people here urging leniency just because the elder Thompsons were beloved teachers in the BCSD once upon a time! If anything, that makes this betrayal even worse. And all of us "want to make a better life" for ourselves and our families, but somehow most of us manage not to embezzle money! Wickliffe and her parents didn't make a "mistake." They made a series of calculated, repeated choices. This must be the same kind of thinking that turned a blind eye to Vinnie Leibell's crimes. The rationale seems to be, "So what? As long as they helped out a lot of folks while they pilfered money from a few others, then who cares?" With values like that, no wonder these crimes seem to be on the rise!
Karl Lebitsch March 30, 2012 at 01:03 PM
Well said!!
Suzanne Landry April 03, 2012 at 06:17 PM
This is exactly what I was wondering. My son went there for several years; I really don't see what the problem is. The program is self funding and not part of the school district. I paid for my son to be cared for and he was very well cared for. That there was extra money and they kept it ....so what. They were running the program. If anyone was stolen from it wasn't the BCSD-it was from parents like me-yet we weren't stolen from either. We recieved the services paid for. I also find it extremely hard to belive that such a large sum could be "stolen" from such a shoestring operation; especially when so many parents did not pay on time and were behind. I like the loose phrasing of the charges levied against Mrs. T. The whole thing smells. If I still lived there I would raise a fund for a good forensic accountant. I don't believe the Thompsons did anything wrong. I know there some in the district that had an agenda against the Thompsons and I know that they were not popular with some because they were so beloved by so many.
Suzanne Landry April 03, 2012 at 06:19 PM
Well said, Diane
Karl Lebitsch April 04, 2012 at 12:05 PM
The comment, "That there was extra money there and they kept it...so what", is absolutely ridiculous. It wasn't theirs.........its called stealing. That's why they were arrested. You see nothing wrong with that?
Suzanne Landry April 04, 2012 at 06:58 PM
Karl, No I don't. I depended on them to help me care for my child so I could work. We had a contract price for this which I paid. Do you understand what that means? The parents are told what the before/after school program would cost. It was the same amount per session, per day for everyone. The parents agreed to the price-the children were more than well cared for. Did you use the before or after school program? If you didn't participate in the program, you may not understand; quite frankly I don't see why you would be concerned. The program was self funded by the parents who paid for the service-like me-not by the tax payers of Brewster/Southeast. I am entitled to not be bothered that they kept the extra money I contributed to without you feeling the need to ridicule. All this hinges on whether or not the Thompsons did take anything. I said it before the whole thing smells. I agree with the previous poster-Dianne-the money-if it did go missing-went missing somewhere else.
Jenny Hinsman April 05, 2012 at 10:53 AM
As a parent who pays every month for aftercare, this is very upsetting. I agree with all of the earlier comments wondering why an internal audit never caught this. Dr. Sandbank needs to improve the internal audit procedures and possibly the staff. The job of auditors is to look for this kind of fraud. All they have to do is match up the 65 parents payments every month to what's showing on the books, and verify the that outgoing costs are legit. How hard can that be??????
Suzanne Landry April 06, 2012 at 03:06 AM
Jenny, I agree with you and I believe that the record keeping you descibe was done; this is why I think something smells. I know a spread sheet was kept with all parents' balances paid and owed-I just do not believe the Thompsons are guilty-if money went missing it went missing elsewhere.
MSS April 16, 2012 at 12:48 PM
It is hard to make an assessment or judge without knowing the details, but I believe the issue is that there was "overpaid salary by collecting the money for services that were not actually performed" and "allegedly filing fraudulent payment vouchers with the school district resulting in the unlawful overpayment of their wages." So, that is taking from the taxpayers. This was money they had collected directly from the school district, not the paying parents.
Patrick Colon June 25, 2012 at 09:08 PM
I see that some claim that Mr. Thomson was a "beloved" teacher, but when my brother Mark and myself both had him when we were in the 4th grade at Garden Street School, he was an animal. He was physically abusive, and VERY verbally abusive. It's a good thing for him that he is retired, because there is no way that he would get away with that these days. My mother was a single mom at the time, yet she still went into the school to complain on several occasions when my brother and myself came home crying after being grabbed, pushed, etc. by Mr Thompson. When Mr. Thomson felt that my brother was taking too much, he put tape over his mouth, and tied him to his seat.
Ashley Tarr (Editor) June 26, 2012 at 02:50 AM
Thank you for the comment, Patrick. Please remember our Terms of Use (http://southeast.patch.com/terms) and refrain from allegations and attacks.
john otto June 30, 2012 at 11:00 PM
as a student of eric thompson through fourth and fifth grade and grandmother was a fellow teacher with him at gss for 35 years, it shocks me,, i would have thought thompson would have been arrested for assault instead of embezalment,,he spent years physically diciplining choldren and if was a teacher today, would have been arrested many years ago,,for picking up kids by their necks, and hey karmas a bi,,h
CB50 July 01, 2012 at 12:22 AM
Poor choices have consequences -- a lesson in life that all adults, parents and teachers try to impart to children. They should be made to face the consequences if found guilty of having taken the money, repay the funds in cash or through community service. This is not a million dollar, impossibly irretrievable embezzlement. The Thompsons' previous teaching credentials, good, bad or otherwise are totally irrelevant to the subject.
artDEsign March 20, 2013 at 03:10 PM
Eric Thomson was my 4th grade teacher. I remember him bullying myself as well other students for the entire semester. He invented derogatory nicknames for some of us that other kids quickly picked up and used to relentlessly taunt. One time I witnessed him slamming a student up against a brick wall on the way to recess. Another day after lunch, as our class lined up in the basement hallway, my classmate who was special needs, pointed and laughed as a fellow student with an unfortunate facial abnormality walked by with her aid. Thompson grabbed him by the collar, slammed him hard against the cinderblock wall and screamed in his face, terrifying the child. I remember hearing air escape his lungs from the force of the slam. He became known for this move. Seriously-ask any student who had him in the mid-1970's. What I felt most betrayed about was that when I was in 3rd grade, it was Thomson's class that everyone wanted to get into. He was the cool teacher that even my 3rd Grade teacher loved. When we got our assignments that summer, I remember being super excited for 4th grade to begin. Turned out Thomson was just a big bully who's actions tortured me that year. Now he is a felon. Karma.
artDEsign March 20, 2013 at 03:18 PM
Thank you for writing this. It's been over 35 years, but I still live with those 2 torturous semesters in my head and the nickname he taunted me with. Man he was a terrible person.
artDEsign March 20, 2013 at 03:22 PM
He should have been arrested years ago for physically abusing children ie: slamming against walls, taunting and bullying, etc,...his victims were all too young to really understand what was happening at the time, but we haven't forgotten.

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