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Alleged PTA theft stuns Middleborough

The Middleborough public school district is reeling from news that two parents have been accused of embezzling as much as $30,000 from an elementary school Parent-Teacher Association.

Sharon Ellis, a former PTA president, and Douglas Russell, a former PTA treasurer, are scheduled to be summonsed to court on May 22 to answer to criminal charges, according to Middleborough School Superintendent Roseli S. Weiss.

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The allegations have rocked the school system, coming so unexpectedly to teachers, administrators, parents, and residents in the town of 23,116.

“Sharon and Doug are people who served the community. . . . Of course, it was a shock,” said Weiss.

Middleborough Police Chief Bruce Gates said Ellis and Russell will be arraigned in Wareham District Court and charged with larceny over $250, a felony.

Gates said the alleged embezzlement took place “over four or five years” and a “big paperwork trail” was left behind.

“Various amounts [of money] over a long period of time were taken out and expended,” he said. “The schools brought it to our attention, and we did an investigation.”

Detective Sergeant Joe Perkins, who conducted the investigation for Middleborough police, did not return a phone call seeking comment. Because the accused have not been arraigned, the Plymouth district attorney’s office also declined to comment.

Weiss, who took the helm of the school system last year, said she first became aware of a potential problem in January, when some elementary school PTA members expressed concerns about the organization’s finances and record-keeping. PTAs are volunteer organizations that run independently of the school district, although Weiss meets periodically with PTA leaders.

A single elementary school PTA in town had recently split into two groups, and PTA members told Weiss that money appeared to be missing from a shared bank account. They began taking a closer look at a series of ATM transactions, questioning where the proceeds from several fund-raisers went.

After further inspection of the financial records, Weiss and the PTA members decided to contact the Police Department. The police were notified in early April, and a detective was assigned.

“That is where things became clearer,” said Weiss.

The outcome of the investigation has left the school community stunned.

“One can imagine how you’d feel if you contributed [to the PTA] and the money had been taken,” said Weiss. “Some people are angry, some people are upset, some are disgusted, some are shocked.”

Neither Ellis nor Russell could be reached for comment.

Weiss said she spoke with Ellis recently.

“She’s devastated,” said Weiss. “She was a fabulous volunteer and just ran into trouble. She certainly realizes what has happened.”

Ellis “was extremely active in fund-raising and PTA for many years,” said Weiss, adding she is no longer an officer of the PTA.

Weiss declined to elaborate on details of the case, or what Ellis had to say.

For now, there are still many questions.

“How many more opportunities were there? And how much money might be undetected? Hopefully there weren’t other people involved,” said Weiss. “We don’t believe there are.”

Weiss said she hopes the incident does not reflect badly on the PTA groups in town. There are now four of them: one for the high school, one for the middle school, one for the Henry B. Burkland Elementary School, and one for the Mary K. Goode Elementary School.

Emily Sweeney can be reached at esweeney@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @emilysweeney.
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