Kings County school administrator bought more than $280,000 worth of gift cards, audit finds

Local News

Spending by an Avenal school administrator is being called “extraordinary” in a independent financial audit released just days before a board of trustees meeting.

Due to the findings in the report, the Kings County Office of Education (KCOE) requested the audit to be investigated by the Kings County District Attorney’s Office.

The matter was discussed at a Nov. 15 board of trustees meeting.

The superintendent of Reef-Sunset Unified School District (RSUSD) requested that an audit be conducted regarding invoices submitted by the school district’s chief business officer, Michelle Cutillo, who allegedly purchased gift cards for personal use, among several other possible financial crimes.

“As you will see, the audit report contains numerous findings regarding ineffective and inadequate internal controls, as well as improper expenditures,” the auditors preface in their report.

An audit was requested by the superintendents of the school district and KCOE after “allegations of fraud were further confirmed,” the report says.

FINDINGS

Gift cards from several businesses were found from Kmart, Barnes & Noble, Save Mart and various restaurants.

The audit says the invoices for the gift cards indicated the purchases were labeled as, “Book sets for student reading/student incentives,” as well as, “end of year party supplies for 3 sites.”

Some of the invoices indicated that the items purchased with the gift cards were “shipped to personal residence.”

Cash collections, under a guise of “technology fees/charges from students,” the audit shows, was counted at her home to an amount estimated of more than $40,000.

There could have been more cash at her home, but the auditors say they are unable to make that determination.

“It is clear the purchase of gift cards was excessive and controls over them was severely lacking,” the audit says.

The auditors say the district staff informed them about overheard conversations with the manager at Dave & Buster’s in Fresno.

“The conversations related to Michelle requesting to be issued a $5,000 gift card for a ‘field trip,'” the audit says.

The manager refused, but said he would add the field trip on the calender. He attempted to call her to make the schedule, the audit says, but she refused to answer the phone.

The notation on the “fictitious invoice” says the trip was canceled due to a “lack of available transportation.”

BREAK DOWN OF NUMBERS

Some purchases totaled more than $4,000, according to the audit.

The audit shows Cutillo purchased $289,507.20 in gift cards since 2006.

$28,260.17 is shown to have gone to various district sites and $83,594.66 was possibly stolen from a safe in 2009, the audit says.

There is a potential shortage of $118,964.57, according to the auditor.

Now, just $58,687.80 worth of gifts cards have been found at various district office locations.

WHAT’S NEXT

The remaining gift cards should be used for student and/or employee incentives, the audit suggests, as well as a need for student and teacher learning tools.

The auditors suggest “immediate” action to be taken to avoid further “mismanagement and/or misappropriation of assets or other illegal actives in the future.”

A suggestion of bi-weekly or weekly deposits by school officials be made, and it be required the deposits to be more than $500 to insure money isn’t being held.

The independent audit was conducted by accounting firm Vavrinek, Trine, Day & Co.

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