Reef-Sunset Unified administrator allegedly spent nearly $300,000 on gift cards, audit says

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An administrator in Avenal could face criminal charges for allegedly embezzling nearly $300,000 from the Reef-Sunset Unified School District. According to an audit requested by the Kings County Office of Education, Michelle Cutillo is accused of spending $289,507.20 in gift cards since 2006.

Reef-Sunset Unified, based in Avenal, serves about 2,700 students and there are approximately 300 employees. Todd Barlow is the Superintedent of Schools for Kings County. He said nine months ago Reef-Sunset Superintendent David East received an anonymous tip that Cutillo was allegedly purchasing gift cards for personal use. Cutillo was the district’s chief business officer and has worked for the school district for 23 years.

“We hired an independent accounting firm to conduct what’s called an extraordinary audit,” said Barlow.

The findings of the audit was released in September, and presented to the public in Thursday night’s Board of Trustees meeting.

Barlow said, “The sad thing is that somebody was in a position to take money away from programs that are supposed to be serving children, and they abused their power in order to do that.”

The report found Cutillo allegedly bought gift cards from Kmart, Barnes and Noble, Save Mart, and restaurants. She would allegedly invoice the gift cards as supplies for students.

East said Cutillo is on leave and, “The district remains committed to it’s service to the students and families in Avenal and Kettleman City. We look forward to implementing the corrective action recommendations from KCOE and ensuring that our fiscal practices are sound.”

The Kings County District Attorney’s Office said it is investigating the case and will determine if there are any criminal charges against Cutillo.

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