Ex-PTA president jailed for 90 days

Woman stole $48,713 from elementary school, which she must repay

Gretchen Blackford, convicted of stealing $48,713 from the Thunder Mountain Elementary School’s Parent Teacher Association, was sentenced Thursday to 90 days in jail and five years of supervised probation.

Mesa County District Judge Brian Flynn also ordered Blackford, a past president of the PTA, to repay the organization the money she stole.

Flynn’s sentence ran contrary to the recommendation of prosecuting attorney Jason Conley, who asked that she not be sent to jail.

“I don’t think I have ever seen anyone steal $48,000 and not go to jail for it,” Flynn said to Conley.
“I’m wondering, is this a new practice?”

Cynical as he was, Flynn made it clear he was not casting stones at Blackford. Rather, he said he simply is enforcing the law, and Blackford’s acts were deceptive and damaging to the community that once trusted her.

“Serious crimes deserve serious consequences,” Flynn said.

He noted Blackford stole $350 a week over a period of 140 weeks, and the money was stolen from schoolchildren.

“They had to go without an awful lot,” Flynn said.

To begin repairing the damage, Blackford’s attorney, Stephan Schweissing, presented the court with Blackford’s first payment, a cashier’s check for $35,655, at the start of the day’s proceedings.

He also told the court his client has been enrolled in therapy and has found a new teaching job at Christian Community Schools.

Blackford’s former colleagues with the Thunder Mountain PTA said because she was a loving mother, a hard worker and a trustworthy friend, her actions were harder to take.

“We did no wrong. We were just left with the results of Gretchen’s actions,” said Deana Saelens, a PTA member. “She stole from the children at Thunder Mountain.”

Blackford, sobbing on occasion, sat staring during most of her sentencing hearing, never making eye contact with the judge until he passed sentence.

At one point she turned to face the gallery. Her eyes were red and puffy, and her words were choked.

“I just want to say I am sorry. There isn’t a day that passes that I don’t carry the weight of all this,” Blackford said. “I’m sorry for betraying your trust.”

Flynn said he found Blackford’s acts to be heinous in the level of their deception, noting Blackford was chosen as volunteer of the year at one point from the very people she was stealing from.

“They trusted you so much, and you stole from them,” Flynn said.

When Flynn pronounced her sentence, there was an audible gasp from observers. Blackford rested her face in her palms until a Mesa County Sheriff’s Department deputy escorted her out of the courtroom and to the Mesa County Jail.


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