WALKER, Mich. (WOOD) — Over a decade, Douglas Gene Barrow did the job it seemed nobody else really wanted – the treasurer for the Walker Charter Academy’s Parent Teacher Organization.
And over the course of 10 years, Barrow managed to rip off more than $79,000, PTO organizers told 24 Hour News 8 Thursday.
It is a betrayal of trust that is far too common. By all accounts, Barrow was everything a school could ask for from a parent volunteer. He was a fixture at the school ready to help when and where he was needed.
“It was very difficult to decide to press charges against a parent whose son is friends with my son,” said Walker Charter Academy PTO President Lori Tripp.
Borrow had two children at the school, but over the last two years has gone through a lengthy divorce and now lives in a mobile home park off South Division Avenue.
“This was his community that he had built trust up in and he took advantage of that,” Tripp said.
Barrow managed to stay out of jail by paying back the money he took in a deal with the prosecution.
Thursday, he brought a check for more than $36,000.
“I was expecting to have fund raisers and encourage people to volunteer and a situation like this does not encourage people to volunteer and/or sell items for your school’s PTO,” Tripp said. “Many of the staff at the school know him, they were his friend and he broke that trust.”
“It’s a painful thing for all of us,” said Walker Charter Academy principal Steve Bagley.
Bagley said the thefts over the years meant that things the school hoped to do for the students were not done because the money was not there.
Barrow’s crime is nothing new. Examples abound from around West Michigan in all kinds of districts.
A couple years ago, Shannon Marie Rosales confessed to taking $21,000 from a Rockford school parent organization where she was treasurer.
In Muskegon in 2015, Jordann Nicole Lockhart spent time in jail for embezzling more than $40,000 from a Mona Shores elementary school PTO where she kept the books.
FORENSIC ACCOUNTANT: ‘KEEP YOUR EYES OPEN’
24 Hour News 8 talked to Wyoming forensic accountant Guy Hiestand about how this happens.
“I think people tend to be honest, they just get caught and think they can work their way out of it,” Hiestand said.
Most often, things start small with the intention of repaying.
“So if you don’t have the money — well, I’ll put it off until next month and I’ll catch up and they just don’t catch up,” Hiestand said.
The problem usually comes where one person is in charge of every aspect of the money tracking.
“It’s checks and balances, divide the duties up,” Hiestand said. “If one person does deposits, another person writes checks, you’ve got more diversity there. And if a third person reconciles the bank account, then you have to have three people colluding and that’s just not going to happen.”
“And you just have to keep your eyes open.”
National PTO group, PTO Today, has suggestions for avoiding problems.
They include suggestions like not using credit cards, requiring two signatures on all checks and regularly having the entire board review bank statements.
But in the end, these organizations require trust and trust can be fragile.