- Associated Press - Sunday, March 16, 2014

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - New Orleans police have arrested a former business manager of Xavier University Preparatory School and secured a warrant for another former employee accused of embezzling thousands from the school in 2011 and 2012.

The New Orleans Advocate reports (https://bit.ly/NkjJaX ) a months-long investigation exposed shoddy bookkeeping at the historic Catholic girls’ school in New Orleans. The school closed last summer because of financial struggles but reopened as St. Katharine Drexel Preparatory High School after a group of alumnae bought the campus from the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament.

The former business manager, Beverly G. Benn, 62, was booked last week with felony theft. A magistrate judge signed a warrant Feb. 25 for Carolyn Vital, 57, a 15-year employee who denied involvement in the thefts. Vital had not been arrested as of Friday.

Detectives said nearly $61,000 in cash was stolen during the first part of 2011 and dozens of receipts for student fees were removed from files in an attempt to conceal the thefts.

Benn and Vital were entrusted with safeguarding and depositing cash that parents paid for student fees and tuition, but audits later revealed that someone was pocketing a sizable amount of the money.

“It is improbable that a multitude of individual thefts of cash could have occurred without the knowledge and/or complicity of both individuals,” Sgt. Frank Denton wrote in the application for the warrant.

An additional $24,755 was taken from the school in 2012, even as a forensic audit of student accounts was being conducted. Benn was no longer working there at the time, according to the warrant, after the school decided not to renew her contract for the 2011-12 school year. Vital remained in the business office, the warrant says, but was later fired for “not answering questions.”

It’s not clear what impact the thefts had on the school‘s finances, though police noted the school‘s insurer reimbursed the 2011 loss.

Benn and Vital could not be reached for comment. It was unclear if either has an attorney. School officials would not discuss the case because the thefts occurred under the prior administration.

The alleged embezzlement began to surface in July 2011 when the school‘s president, Joseph Peychaud, who remained at the helm after last year’s sale, learned many parents were being contacted about fees and tuition that were supposedly past due even though the parents had receipts showing they paid.

An accounting firm confirmed the thefts had occurred in the business office. Vital told an auditor at the time that she had “covered up the defalcations of others to protect them,” the warrant says.

The school‘s insurer also had a forensic audit conducted and found the business office had been failing to deposit cash payments into the school‘s bank account. “During the audit, copies of the missing payer receipts were obtained from parents or students,” the warrant says. “Each receipt bore the signature of Carolyn Vital.”


Information from: The New Orleans Advocate, https://www.neworleansadvocate.com

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