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Former PTO treasurer faces larceny charge

A former Forestdale Parent Teacher Organization treasurer has been accused of stealing more than $10,000 from the school’s volunteer group. Jane Marenghi, 48, of Dutton Street, was in Malden District Court this week to face a charge of larceny over $250. A second charge involving intimidation of a witness was dismissed during an earlier court appearance. Marenghi pleaded not guilty and a jury trial was scheduled for July 20.

Boston 25 News, which broke the story on its Monday night broadcast, reported that other Forestdale PTO members became aware that a significant amount of money was missing from the organization’s bank account last September. They discussed their concerns with Forestdale Principal Donald Concannon, who then asked Marenghi about thousands of dollars in unauthorized purchases made with the PTO funds.

According to the Boston 25 News spot, Marenghi allegedly told Concannon she did not remember spending PTO money, and accounting errors were due to her multiple sclerosis.

Concannon contacted Malden Police, and Detective Robert DiSalvatore led an investigation into the missing money that included an examination of bank records and interviews with Marenghi and other PTO members. The police forwarded the results of their inquiry to the Middlesex District Attorney’s Office, which now contends that $10,836 in PTO money was spent on non-PTO purchases. The shopping took place over the 18 months that Marenghi served as the organization’s treasurer.

Some residents might feel as if they’ve heard the story of local PTO theft before, and that’s probably because they have. In 2013, Ami Wood, the former treasurer of the Mystic Valley Regional Charter School’s PTO, was accused of stealing more than $30,000 from that organization. According to the Middlesex DA, Wood and her husband used the money to pay bills and cover personal expenses.

And PTO theft is hardly unique to Malden. Anyone who googles PTO embezzlement or PTA theft will find thousands of cases from all corners of the country. The problem is so pervasive that PTO Today, a magazine and web site for school parent groups, regularly reports on PTO theft and offers advice on how to avoid the problem.

According to Michelle Bates Deakin, a reporter for PTO Today, more than 90 percent of the cases of PTO theft involve first-time offenders struggling with financial problems. PTOs offer opportunities for theft because the organizations are manned by trusting volunteers working together to benefit schools where their own children are enrolled. PTO thefts often involved a member stealing small amounts of money that add up over time. Deakin said a $20,000 theft can be a huge financial hit for schools that depend on PTO support for basic programs.

Cases of theft also take an emotional toll on individual members and the organization. But Deakin said PTOs typically adjust and come out stronger.

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