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The Journal Gazette

Tuesday, March 15, 2016 4:57 pm

Suspect in FWCS theft sued by state

Rebecca S. Green | The Journal Gazette

Already facing criminal charges connected to allegations that she misused the school district’s credit card, a former FWCS purchasing agent is now being sued by the Indiana attorney general in an attempt to get the money back.

And the state is seeking to recover three times the amount she allegedly stole, according to court documents.

In September, Patty Coffelt was charged with two counts of felony theft, accused of misusing a Fort Wayne Community Schools credit card on a number of occasions from June 27 to June 30, 2012, and from July 1 to Nov. 12, 2014.

According to the lawsuit filed Wednesday in Allen County Circuit Court, she made 30 unauthorized purchases with the card during the time in question.

Coffelt spent $13,729, according to court documents.

Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller filed the lawsuit against Coffelt on Wednesday. It came after the completion of a special investigation by the State Board of Accounts.

According to court documents, Coffelt made 11 purchases totaling $9,335 that were charged to special education funds. The schools for which the items were purchased had no record of requesting or receiving the items.

One purchase made by Coffelt included five notebook computers, at the request of a local school, each valued at $349. She ordered six notebook computers, overrode the requisition total of five and kept the sixth for herself, according to court documents.

She reported $2,286 as fraudulent charges, but the investigation revealed the money had been spent on her own electric and phone bills, according to court documents.

In other instances, there were unauthorized purchases dismissed as mistakes, but no repayment was made to the school district, according to court documents.

The investigation found that FWCS officials did not have sufficient internal controls over procurement card transactions, nor for reconciling accounts, according to court documents.

The district recovered the money through an insurance policy covering "employment dishonesty," according to court documents.

In a statement issued Wednesday afternoon, school officials said they took swift action when they became aware of what happened.

"We appreciate the Attorney General taking this action," district spokeswoman Krista Stockman wrote in an email. "We take our role as responsible stewards of public funds seriously and want to put this money back to use in assisting students.

"When we became aware of the discrepancies, we took action quickly and cooperated fully with all investigating authorities. We also reviewed our processes and strengthened procedures to prevent such activity in the future," Stockman wrote.

State law allows Indiana to recover three times the actual loss in such cases, so the attorney general’s office is seeking $41,188 in damages, as well as court costs and attorney fees.

In the criminal case, Coffelt, 54, remains free on her own recognizance and is scheduled for trial in March. She has a court-appointed public defender.