Ex-Worker Charged With Stealing Donations to Student Club

By April Witt and David S. Fallis
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, November 1, 2007

Federal prosecutors have charged the former business manager at a District school for emotionally disturbed elementary students with stealing $30,000 in donations to the school's chess club, which raised the money for a trip to a national student tournament.

In a filing Monday in U.S. District Court, prosecutors said Sandy Jones, former business manager of the Moten Center in Anacostia, made withdrawals from bank branches and ATMs and wrote herself unauthorized checks from the chess club's account from May through November 2003.

The young chess players had been selling candy and hot dogs to pay for a trip to the Nashville tournament. After The Washington Post published a column that said they were falling short of their goal, readers donated about $70,000 to the club -- far more than was needed for the trip, records show. Eleven children and their adult chaperons made the trip in May 2003. Leftover donations were deposited in a student bank account.

After the tournament, Jones began taking the donations from the student account, according to the charging documents. She was charged with one count of first-degree fraud and one count of bank fraud.

Jones and her attorney did not return phone calls yesterday.

The Moten chess club, the only special-needs team participating in the tournament, finished in the middle of the field.

Vaughn L. Bennett, 42, who was the volunteer coach for the club in 2003, said yesterday that he was disheartened by the alleged theft.

"What I had envisioned was that the money would be used to have those kids continuously playing chess, to stay connected and travel to other places to play chess," Bennett said.

Like other students at the elementary school, club members have behavioral and learning problems that have made it difficult for them to succeed at mainstream schools.

Learning chess was an opportunity to acquire life skills in one of the poorest neighborhoods in the District, Bennett said.

"It gives them the opportunity to look at human conduct through a chessboard," Bennett said. "If they make a good move, they can possibly have good consequences."

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