- Associated Press - Friday, May 9, 2014

PHOENIX (AP) - An office manager has been indicted for stealing more than $500,000 from an Arizona scholarship program that assists needy students, Goodyear police said Friday.

Marion Holmes, 60, was accused by a grand jury in Maricopa County Superior Court of 35 counts involving fraud, theft, forgery and other offenses, police spokeswoman Lisa Kutis said.

Holmes allegedly misappropriated at least $529,000 from the Arizona School Choice Trust for personal use, Kutis said. A majority of that money was funneled into a bank account Holmes had for her printing business, according to the indictment.

Kutis said she did not know if Holmes, who lives in Goodyear, had an attorney. A message left at a number listed for Holmes was not immediately returned Friday.

The Arizona School Choice Trust is a school-tuition organization approved by the state that helps children from low-income backgrounds attend private schools of their choosing.

The trust doles out funds through three state tax-credit scholarship programs.

Trust Executive Director Elizabeth Dreckman said Holmes was hired as a full-time office manager and consultant six years ago. She got along with colleagues and gave no reason for people not to trust her, Dreckman said.

But in May 2013, Dreckman discovered missing funds. She and board members reported it to Goodyear police.

A subsequent investigation led police to Holmes. She was arrested June 2013 and fired immediately, Dreckman said. The entire organization was shocked by the discovery, she said.

“It’s very disheartening when someone takes advantage - especially of an organization that helps children,” Dreckman said. “I’m very thankful we discovered this problem, and the authorities have been absolutely wonderful in helping us to recover the funds so our families are made whole.”

Holmes‘ alleged crimes date back to May 2010 when she purportedly used a company credit card to spend more than $34,000 for herself, according to court documents. Other allegations include making thousands of dollars in wire transfers and check deposits into the bank account of her printing business. She also is accused of forging checks in the name of the trust’s executive director.

In all, Holmes is facing 18 counts of theft, 13 counts of forgery and one count each of fraudulent schemes and artifices, fraudulent use of a credit card, money laundering and receipt of anything of value obtained by fraudulent use of a credit card.

Holmes‘ theft should not affect the amount of money the program can give, Dreckman said. The trust expects to fund scholarships for more children this year than last year, she said.

The trust also is taking multiple legal actions to recover the stolen money, Dreckman said.

“We take very seriously helping as many families as we can,” she said. “We are continuing to do that in spite of this.”



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