By GREG JORDAN
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
TAZEWELL, Va. —
A former employee at a local middle school charged with multiple counts of embezzlement and a charge of money laundering could have taken more than $300,000 in school funds, the local Commonwealth’s Attorney said Thursday.
Willie Kathy Hicks, also known as Kathy Keene, 53, of North Tazewell was indicted Oct. 2 by a Tazewell County grand jury on 15 counts of embezzlement by a public officer and one count of money laundering, according to a press release issued Thursday by the Virginia State Police. The investigation was conducted by Virginia State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation’s Wytheville field office.
Hicks was a secretary and bookkeeper at Tazewell Middle School during the time of the alleged fraud. She has since retired from the school system.
Since at least 2006, Hicks is alleged to have taken thousands of dollars per year in funds intended for the school and school-related events, the press release said.
During a press conference in Cedar Bluff, Va., Commonwealth’s Attorney Dennis Lee said an amount “in excess of $300,000” was involved. The funds included taxpayer money and other school funds.
“Approximately May 19 of this year, I received a call from Alan McGraw, who is the attorney for the Tazewell County School Board, and he advised me that there was suspicion that a school secretary/bookkeeper may have been involved in embezzling school funds,” Lee said.
Lee contacted the Virginia State Police on May 20 and asked for an officer with expertise in financial investigations to be assigned. The case is still under investigation. Hicks was arrested Wednesday and is currently free on bond.
School officials in Tazewell County also confirmed that an investigation is underway into missing money from Tazewell Middle School.
“Upon notification of the potential irregularities in Tazewell Middle School’s accounting for school activity funds, and suspected missing money, (former School Superintendent) Dr. Brenda Lawson notified members of the Tazewell County School Board,” Superintendent Dr. Michaelene Meyer said. “The school board took immediate action in this matter by informing and turning over the investigation to appropriate authorities. At this time, the division has no further comment to make regarding this matter.”
Each embezzlement charge carries a possible sentence of 20 years imprisonment, and money laundering could carry a term of up to 40 years, Lee said.