2 ex-Phoenix school district accounting specialists indicted in connection with fraud scheme

Officials with the Arizona Attorney General's Office say two former budget accounting specialists with a school district in the Phoenix area have been indicted in connection with an alleged fraud scheme.

In a statement released on Aug. 9, officials identified the two former budget accounting specialists as Ryan Mariano and April Childs. The two worked for Wilson Elementary School District, which serves students in a part of Phoenix.

According to officials, Mariano is accused of Fraudulent Schemes and Artifices, Theft over $25,000, Misuse of Public Funds, and Forgery, all of which are felonies. The incidents allegedly happened between August 2018 and March 2019, when Mariano allegedly used his position to appropriate district checks for himself.

"Specifically, Mr. Mariano is alleged to have deposited unauthorized checks that exceeded $25,000.00 into his personal account," read a portion of the statement.

As for Childs, officials with the Arizona Attorney General's Office say she was indicted by a State Grand Jury, and is accused of Fraudulent Schemes and Artifices, Theft over $25,000, and Forgery, all of which are felonies.

The alleged scheme involving Childs, according to investigators, happened between July 2019 and January 2020.

"Specifically, Ms. Childs is alleged to have stolen these checks during her employment and post-employment, and deposited unauthorized checks that totaled over $4,000.00 into her personal account," read a portion of the statement.

State investigation reveals additional details

The case, according to the Attorney General's Office, was investigated by the Arizona Auditor General's Office.

According to the Auditor General's report, Mariano was responsible for managing the district's checking account that was held at a local credit union, starting in 2016 and until his firing three years later. The district discovered the alleged financial misconduct involving Mariano while training Childs, who was Mariano's successor. Childs was fired by the district in December 2019, and her alleged financial misconduct was discovered in January 2020.

In the report, investigators with the Auditor General's Office say from August 2018 to March 2019, Mariano allegedly issued himself 15 unauthorized clearing account checks that are worth a total of $27,582. The checks allegedly have false memo sections and forged signatures, and Mariano allegedly falsified the district's accounting software to conceal his actions.

"These checks ranged from $600 to $6,886 and included the forged signature of 1 of the 2 authorized signers. The checks also included false memo section purposes such as ‘coaching’ or ‘stipend,’ even though Mr. Mariano was not authorized to receive payments for those purposes, and those types of payments are not allowed to be issued through the clearing account," read a portion of the report. "Moreover, after printing the checks payable to himself, Mr. Mariano allegedly changed the checks’ payee in the District’s accounting software from his name to ‘Maricopa County Treasurer’ or ‘Treasurer of Maricopa County,’ making it falsely appear as if the checks were issued for authorized purposes."

The checks, according to investigators, were allegedly deposited into Mariano's personal checking accounts, and were allegedly used primarily to cover negative balances, as well as to pay for personal expenses like rents, utilities, travel, restaurants, and legal costs.

As for Childs, investigators accuse her of removing 14 blank checks from the clearing account, and later issuing three checks totaling $5,000 that was deposited to her personal checking account.

"Similar to Mr. Mariano’s scheme, these 3 checks listed a forged signature of the same authorized signer, and 1 included a false memo section purpose of ‘stipend’ that Ms. Childs was not authorized to receive. These checks were primarily used to cover Ms. Childs’ negative checking account balances and to pay for cash withdrawals," read a portion of the report.

We have reached out to officials with the Wilson Elementary School District for comment, and officials replied with a statement that reads:

"The Wilson Elementary School District reported this matter to the Auditor General as soon as it was uncovered. We will continue to cooperate with authorities regarding this matter."

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