published Saturday, April 12th, 2014

Ex-bookkeeper charged with theft of school funds

A former Whitwell High School bookkeeper was arrested Thursday on felony theft charges alleging she took more than $35,000 in school funds.

Lois Alene Vandergriff, 49, was arrested by Marion County, Tenn., authorities on indictments charging her with theft over $10,000 and vandalism, according to a Tennessee Bureau of Investigation release.

She is free on $10,000 bond and faces arraignment on the charges April 21.

The Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury's Division of Investigations audited the records of Whitwell High School for the time period between July 1, 2009, and Oct. 31, 2010, revealing that $35,332 was misappropriated by Vandergriff, according to the TBI.

TBI officials say Vandergriff resigned on Oct. 26, 2010.

Marion County Director of Schools Mark Griffith said Vandergriff had worked at the school at least eight years and there were no problems that anyone knew about.

But a new computer upgrade started to reveal discrepancies in what school officials call "activities funds" related to sports teams, the cheerleading squad and school clubs, Griffith said.

Griffith credited then-new Principal Josh Holtcamp with uncovering the missing money during a school-level investigation.

"We notified the [state] comptroller and then through the night Ms. Vandergriff came in and left her keys in Mr. Holtcamp's office with a letter saying that she resigned her post," he said.

12th Judicial District Attorney Mike Taylor said the vandalism charge stems from Vandergriff's destruction of the hard drive on the computer she used at the school.

Taylor asked the TBI to open an investigation in October 2013 and presented the case to the grand jury earlier this week, he said.

Contact staff writer Ben Benton at bbenton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6569.

about Ben Benton...

Ben Benton is a news reporter at the Chattanooga Times Free Press. He covers Southeast Tennessee and previously covered North Georgia education. Ben has worked at the Times Free Press since November 2005, first covering Bledsoe and Sequatchie counties and later adding Marion, Grundy and other counties in the northern and western edges of the region to his coverage. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Tenn., a graduate of Bradley Central High School. Benton ...

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