The former treasurer of a countywide PTA in Maryland’s largest school system has been sentenced to nine months in prison after embezzling more than $39,000 from the group. But prosecutors said the treasurer’s wrongdoing extended beyond that, with testimony that money from an individual school’s PTA was used to pay for gas, clothes, groceries, makeup and a trip to the Statue of Liberty.
Lisa Betts, 46, was sentenced Tuesday in Montgomery County Circuit Court and ordered to repay more than $72,000. She will serve five years’ probation.
Betts stole $39,015 from the Montgomery County Council of Parent-Teacher Associations, writing checks and altering bank statements to hide her activities. The Montgomery County PTA represents more than 50,000 members in 198 parent groups in the county’s public schools.
Betts will pay $1,000 to the countywide PTA for its insurance deductible and $27,000 to Travelers Insurance, which insured the school group.
She was also ordered to repay $44,000 to the Greencastle Elementary PTA, where she previously served as an officer.
Betts’s misappropriation at Greencastle — where more than tw0-thirds of students qualify for free or reduced-price meals — started as early as 2011, prosecutor John Lalos said after Betts pleaded guilty to embezzlement in November.
Montgomery PTA board members began raising questions about financial reports six to seven months after Betts became treasurer. An audit team was formed, and police were contacted in April 2017.
Early on, Betts claimed she used the money to repay funds she diverted from PTAs at Greencastle in Silver Spring and Benjamin Banneker Middle School in Burtonsville.
But Lynne Harris, president of the countywide PTA, said she told the court that Betts had committed hundreds of individual thefts, starting with the school PTAs and extending to the county organization. It was not a single act or lapse but continuous, she said, extending over almost six years.
“There were some alleged shopping trips,” said Ramon Korionoff, a spokesman for the Montgomery County State’s Attorney’s Office. According to bank statements, Betts also used PTA money to see a show in Las Vegas and for regular trips to Starbucks.
“All the shoes, hair salons, restaurants, liquor stores, Mandalay Bay,” Harris said, referring to a Las Vegas hotel. “It’s all in the bank statements.”
Betts’s attorney, Oleg Fastovsky, did not respond to messages seeking comment.
Laura Stewart, a leader in the countywide PTA, headed the audit committee last spring. She said that when members became suspicious about the organization’s financial activities, they requested bank statements in January 2017. Stewart said Betts showed the board fake bank statements in early March 2017.
“She forged the bank documents,” Stewart said. She said Betts would get the original bank documents, scrub them and then present them as “the real bank statement.”
Betts resigned as treasurer shortly after the audit committee saw the real bank statements in April 2017.
Copies of bank statements provided by Harris reveal discrepancies between the documents Betts provided and what was on EagleBank statements.
Betts also wrote and cashed checks written to “cash” and wrote checks to herself as reimbursement that she used to pay her personal credit card bills, according to an impact statement Harris presented in court.
“Today’s sentence sends a strong message to the community. Do not steal from nonprofit groups which benefit children. We will hold you accountable,” Korionoff said in a statement.
The Montgomery PTA operates on an annual budget of $60,000 to $70,000, Harris said, which is used for advocacy, an arts festival and informational events.
Harris said she does not think the organization’s reputation will be tarnished by Betts’s sentencing. “We’ve already restored trust in the PTA because I think our leadership team started off being utterly and completely transparent in everything we do,” she said.