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Palm Coast Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2019 1 day ago

State to investigate fundraising fraud at Flagler's Belle Terre Elementary

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New PTO president hopes to 'start fresh.'
by: Brian McMillan Executive Editor

As the Flagler County Sheriff's Office hands over the investigation of Belle Terre Elementary to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the PTO president has spoken out to help Belle Terre "start fresh."

FCSO released a report today, Dec. 3, stating that detectives met with Parent Teacher Organization President Jennifer Paterno on Nov. 26, and she gave details of "fraud and public corruption" over the past three years at Belle Terre. The case report is heavily redacted because it describes an active investigation, but it appears there are three suspects in the case. FCSO will ask FDLE to investigate a "scheme to defraud - false pretenses under $20K."

Flagler Schools also announced Dec. 3 that Jessica DeFord is interim principal. Terence Culver's last day was Nov. 22; he will retire Jan. 3, 2020. Stephen Furnari, a local attorney, confirmed that Culver is among those to be investigated. 

Paterno wrote the following statement after the FCSO released its report:

 

I am the current President of the PTO at Belle Terre Elementary School. I was elected PTO President in May 2019 when the former PTO President (for the previous 8 years) agreed to step down. I accepted the position with the goals of making positive changes in the school and increasing parental involvement.  

Shortly after reviewing the few financial records I was given, it appeared that there was prior mismanagement of funds, including funds missing from PTO accounts and fundraisers.  

Although I had been a part of the PTO board for many years, there was never financial transparency from previous leadership. Financial records were never made available to members, despite numerous requests for them. 

After reviewing records from banks and vendors, and taking over the leadership of PTO events, evidence of suspicious activity was accumulating. 

Concerned for the PTO members, the children, and the school, I sought the advice of an attorney who advised me to come forward and bring the information I discovered to the School District for further investigation.

I met with the School Board’s attorney, who advised me that a thorough investigation would be conducted. That investigation is still ongoing, and I have not received any information regarding the details or outcome of that investigation.

As newer, more serious evidence of wrongdoing emerged, I felt compelled to file a report with the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office. As the new president of the PTO, I felt it was my duty to protect the PTO by having the appropriate authorities investigate this further. 

My hope is that law enforcement and the school district will be able to properly resolve these matters so we can start fresh and develop new goals and strategies, leading to the development and growth of a thriving, successful BTES PTO. 

The children at Belle Terre should not suffer or be disadvantaged in any way because of the inappropriate behavior of a few. It is my sincere hope that, together, we can build a new partnership between our community, our parents, and our school, to work together in nurturing and molding our children into successful students and responsible, contributing members of our society.

Sincerely,

Jennifer Paterno

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