Teacher gets jail time for stealing nearly $100,000 in union dues
BY STACI WILSON
A former Montrose Area teacher embezzled over $97,000 of union dues money while she was treasurer of the school’s teachers’ union in order to provide more for her children than she could actually afford, her attorney said in court Thursday morning.
Cheryl Arnold, 55, of Montrose, was sentenced to serve six to 23 months for the thefts committed over several years by President Judge Kenneth Seamans. A hearing will likely be held to determine the amount owed in restitution.
District Attorney Jason Legg said the Montrose Education Association and Arnold had been unable to come to an agreement on the restitution amount. The union is seeking repayment of the nearly $100,000 that had been taken. Arnold says the amount owed is much lower.
In dispute, Legg told the court, is about $30,000 in deposits made to the union account that can not be explained after a forensic audit of the account was conducted.
Defense attorney John Petorak told the court that if that money did not come from the district employees, then it would have come from Arnold – an attempt by her to replace the money she took from the union payments.
“The perception is that Cheryl Arnold must be a bad person because she is charged with taking $97,000,” Petorak said. “But good people sometimes do bad things.”
Charges were filed in May 2012 following an investigation that began when the annual dues payments to the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) and National Education Association became delinquent in 2011.
Petorak told the court that his client had no intention of permanently depriving the people of money. She would draw money out and then return the funds to the account before disbursements needed to be made to the union at the state and federal level.
The last time she took money, she was unable to get the money back into the account on time, Petorak told the court. “That’s when the house of cards began collapsing.”
Arnold pleaded guilty to a felony count of theft by unlawful taking in December 2013. At the time of the plea, Legg said he would be willing to accept a change in the plea to a misdemeanor count of misappropriation of entrusted property of government or financial institutions if Arnold paid at least $50,000 in restitution prior to her sentencing.
Petorak said Arnold had received a retirement severance in the amount of $47,000. But his client, he told the court, was unable to survive without her salary as a school teacher and no funds from her school retirement remained to be used towards the amount owed.
Legg told the court that charges were lodged against Arnold nearly two years ago and numerous delays were granted in the case because it had been represented that she planned to make restitution with her retirement severance.
“Not a red cent is left,” Legg said. “In two years she has made no effort to make it right. She had the means to do so and chose not to.”
Arnold, the district attorney said, was not just stealing from a faceless entity over a period of several years, but from her fellow teachers who had entrusted her with their money. “She was using the union as her personal ATM.”