Emails detail funding probe
ConVal assistant cleared in missing booster funds
PETERBOROUGH — Months after two ConVal employees resigned amid a fundraising-related investigation, documents and subsequent interviews indicate that the district has been unable to determine how approximately $1,000 meant for the ConVal soccer team and other co-curricular groups disappeared.
Meanwhile, ex-ConVal athletic director Jon Hall continues to maintain his innocence, and his former assistant, Mel Keeler, who early on was cleared of wrongdoing, says she is considering filing a lawsuit against the district, citing ill treatment during the probe.
Emails obtained recently from the ConVal School District in response to a Right-to-Know request from the Ledger-Transcript show that discrepancies first came to light when a deposit of cash and checks from a ConVal soccer booster fundraiser came up short on Sept. 18. The money had been held in an Athletic Department safe for six days. Less than two weeks later, ConVal’s Athletic Department was without its two top employees as questions about the incident mounted.
ConVal Business Administrator Marian Alese, who oversaw an internal investigation into what happened, said last week that ConVal administrators talked to Hall, Keeler and others who had access to funds during the course of the investigation.
Alese said in addition to $660 missing from the soccer booster fundraiser, she discovered discrepancies in other fundraising accounts, bringing the total loss to around $1,000.
The missing money was reported to Peterborough police on Sept. 23, and the investigation is still active, according to Police Chief Scott Guinard.
“We could not determine who took the money,” Alese said last week. “We did discover a number of policies that weren’t being followed. Having money counted as it was received was part of the procedure that wasn’t being done. We needed to tighten things up.”
Alese said last week that the district has focused on its accounting policies following the investigation. All fundraising accounts are now linked to the district’s main accounting software, so spot audits can be done. Procedures have been modified to ensure that cash coming in is counted and signed for by at least two people at every stage.
The emails show that Hall learned of a cash discrepancy after a booster club officer went to deposit money that had been handed over to Hall a few days earlier. Moe Leflem, a Peterborough resident and former teacher and coach who was coordinating a fundraiser where players sold frozen pizzas, had turned in cash and checks, totaling more than $10,000 and, on Sept. 12, Hall put the money and checks into the athletic department’s safe. Six days later, on Wednesday, Sept. 18, the booster club deposit of those checks and cash came up short.
Hall, Leflem and soccer boosters met on Thursday, Sept. 19, to go over the fundraising financial information, but emails do not show that they reached any conclusion about what had happened. By the next day, ConVal officials had started an internal investigation.
Leflem told the Ledger-Transcript last week that the pizza fundraising was run by a company called Adrenaline Fundraising that employs his son, Brett. Soccer players sold frozen pizzas, collected money and donations, and turned them in to Leflem.
“The overwhelming majority is in checks, made out to the team,” Leflem said. “The money is collected from players and verified, and was turned over to the coach.”
Hall was coach of the boys soccer team as well as ConVal’s athletic director.
Leflem said he verified the amount of money he was turning in to Hall.
“In this case, the money tallied matched the number of boxes that were sold. It was signed for and [Hall] agreed to the amount,” Leflem said. He said the money remained in the athletic department office until the treasurer of the boosters club came to pick it up.
Hall and Keeler were both interviewed by ConVal officials early in the investigation.
“There were many meetings that included boosters and others about the discrepancy,” Hall wrote in an email to the Ledger-Transcript on Jan. 15 in response for a request for comment. “During some of these meetings I was the questioner and in some I was questioned. ... I still do not know definitively what happened to the missing monies but I do know this, I never stole money from ConVal or anyone else.”
Keeler said last week, in a phone interview, that when she was told that some pizza fundraising money was missing on Friday, Sept. 20, she realized that there was additional co-curricular money in the athletic department safe. She went to deposit it, she said, and found $250 missing. She said she called ConVal High School administrators from the bank to notify them. When she returned, she was asked to turn in her keys.
“I sat down with officials from ConVal and was basically accused, and told there was a police investigation and that my office was a crime scene,” she said.
On Sunday, Sept. 22, ConVal Principal Brian Pickering sent Keeler an email inviting her to return to work. “We have looked at your notes and are comfortable with your return to work tomorrow,” he wrote. “There will be interviews with several employees and an ongoing investigation as I stated, but we look forward to your return. Please accept our apology for questioning you, knowing that we are held responsible for securing our community funds and most importantly our community trust.”
The email was sent to Keeler’s work account, and she said she never saw it.
“I went to the police station on Monday because I was told there was an investigation and they didn’t know what I was talking about,” Keeler said. “There was no crime scene, like I was told and made to feel terrible [about]. It was a total scare tactic.”
Keeler said she then contacted the school and was told she could come back to work.
Keeler said she was interviewed again on Tuesday, Sept. 24, but she wouldn’t share details of that session.
According to Keeler, she had frequently been the person depositing co-curricular funds.
“The clubs all have treasurers or advisors, they bring the money along with a deposit slip. They count the money, fill out a deposit slip. I count the money and give them a receipt.”
She said she would go once or twice a week to the bank if necessary.
“I never wanted anything lingering in the safe.”
Keeler said she had been doing the deposits for nearly three years with no problems.
“The whole reason I was given the job in the first place was because money had gone missing from the co-curriculars in the past. This wasn’t the first time,” she said.
Keeler said she turned in a letter of resignation to ConVal on Friday, Sept. 27.
Hall continued working at ConVal until Monday, Sept. 30, when he turned in his resignation after coaching the soccer team on Saturday and participating in the school’s Hall of Fame ceremony on Sunday.
“My resignation was a sudden but a deeply personal and difficult decision,” he wrote in his email to the Ledger-Transcript. “The position of athletic director is one that requires trust and support from many levels to be successful. Without that trust and support leading the Athletic Department would be impossible. I felt those things would be lacking moving forward so I made the very difficult decision to resign. ... I realize that the lack of answers to what did happen puts me in a difficult position and leaves room for people to draw all sorts of conclusions, but I hold my head high and with integrity because I know I didn’t do anything wrong.”
Keeler said ConVal officials offered her job back after she resigned. She said she was told if she didn’t choose to return she would have to write a second letter of resignation.
“I was given kind of an ultimatum,” she said. “I still feel like there is a dark cloud hanging over me and I want someone to come out and stick up for me and say, ‘She did not do this. She did not take any money,’ because I didn’t.”
Keeler said she wrote a second resignation letter and School Supt. Brendan Minnihan then wrote a letter of recommendation for her. Minnihan confirmed on Monday that he had written a recommendation letter.
Keeler, who is now working as an office manager at New England College, said she’s considering a lawsuit against the school district.
“I wasn’t treated in the best way and I need to find out my options here,” she said.
Alese said she is working with the district’s insurance company about making a claim to recover the lost money, but the amount may be below the district’s deductible. If that is the case, she said, the soccer boosters and other groups would still be reimbursed.
Alese said one source of money might be the principals’ funds.
“When the district is paid by the company that takes school pictures, for example, the money goes into principals’ accounts, which the principal can ask to have used for non-budgeted items. The roller skating program at South Meadow is another example,” Alese said.
She said the booster club has not yet been reimbursed.
The email trail
A series of emails among ConVal staffers and Athletic Department boosters — obtained by the Ledger-Transcript after filing a Right-to-Know request — provide a timeline of events related to the missing money and the resignations:
Sept. 12: Hall emails a soccer booster, to notify her that he had received money from the pizza sales: “I am going to lock this in the safe here but would like to get it in the bank as soon as possible,” he wrote. “It is in excess of $10,000.”
Sept. 18, 2 p.m.: The booster emails Hall: “There was $660 discrepancy between your sheet and the bank’s count.”
Sept. 18, 2:05 p.m.: A second booster emails Hall: “You gave me a sheet that indicated there was $6,645 in checks and $3,597 in cash for a total of $10,412. ... Basically there is $660 in cash missing, according to the discrepancy between the summary sheet and the bank ... Jon, did you total everything that appeared on the sheet, or did someone else?”
Sept. 18, 2:10 p.m.: Hall emails to boosters, saying he will contact Moe Leflem, who had turned in the fundraising money: “I did not verify the count from Moe Leflem. I will forward this to him and contact him immediately.
Sept. 18, 4:23 p.m.: Hall emails boosters again: “I am very upset about the discrepancy in the cash. If Moe’s count of cash is right and the bank is right, someone took $660 out of my safe.”
Hall, Leflem and boosters meet on Sept. 19 to review financial reports.
Sept. 19, 10:02 p.m.: A booster emails Hall: “Thanks for meeting tonight... Jon, please be sure to thank Moe again too.”
Sept. 23, 8:36 a.m.: Hall emails to booster: “At this point the investigation is being handed off to the SAU. [ConVal Business Administrator] Marian Alese will probably be in touch to set up an interview with someone from the booster club about the missing money.”