Woman stole money from PTA, cops say
After a nearly yearlong investigation, the Grand Junction Police Department on Friday issued an arrest warrant for Gretchen Blackford — a woman who was honored with School District 51’s Volunteer of the Year award in 2006 for her leadership of a local elementary school’s parent-teacher group.
Blackford, 37, now faces a felony charge of theft of more than $20,000 for allegedly emptying the bank accounts of that same fundraising group.
Blackford turned herself in to authorities, posted a $10,000 bond and appeared in court Tuesday to be advised of her charge. The alleged thefts occurred between March 11, 2005, and November 17, 2007.
Blackford, who resigned from District 51 and now is a fourth-grade teacher at Genesis Christian School in Clifton, returns to court Sept. 30 for the formal filing of her charge.
Blackford became president of the Thunder Mountain Elementary School Parent-Teacher Council in March 2005, and in that capacity may have stolen nearly $49,000 from the group, leaving “very little,” one board member said Tuesday.
Blackford was a first-year fifth-grade teacher at Rocky Mountain Elementary School when she turned herself in to the Mesa County Sheriff’s Department on Nov. 17, 2007, for using at least $10,000 in parent-teacher council money to pay her mortgage and household bills, according to her arrest affidavit. Blackford interviewed with deputies at that time, but then stopped, saying she wanted first to consult with an attorney.
After board members were contacted by Police Department detective Jeremiah Boies about Blackford’s statements, board members reviewed their accounts at the Bank of Colorado and Vectra Bank and noticed numerous “suspicious withdrawals.” They eventually determined their accounts were missing $31,678.
District 51 hired auditors who determined the total theft amount was $48,713, taken from two parent-teacher council accounts, of which Blackford had sole check-signing authority, the affidavit said.
The parent-teacher council and the school district do not share funding.
District 51 spokesman Jeff Kirtland said the district paid $2,500 for auditing services from Chadwick, Steinkirchner, Davis & Co. P.C., because “the district supports the school and the parents” and wanted the case to reflect accurate information.
Blackford wrote an apology to board members and said she can “come up with the $20,000 to begin paying back the money she took,” the affidavit said.
A check from Anthony Blackford for $8,000, made out to the Thunder Mountain PTA on Nov. 19, was intended as the beginning of restitution, the affidavit said. Thunder Mountain Principal Diane Carver accepted the check, but the board decided not to accept payment until the criminal case was completed.
A board member who did not want to be named said the parent-teacher council’s board has since implemented strict checks on the group’s accounts, such as having two signers for purchases and distributing current bank statements to every board member. The parent-teacher council has donated books and playground equipment and wants to help pay for the school’s new art program. A current fundraiser involves students selling products such as gift wrap, chocolates and kitchen accessories.
The board member said it has been frustrating to have to earn back the public’s trust.
Blackford, who started as the group’s treasurer and moved up to president, was trusted by all board members, she said.
Students at the school were given letters to take home Tuesday afternoon outlining the situation.
“It’s been a long haul waiting for this day,” the board member said. “You see these things happen, but you don’t think it’s going to happen to anybody you know.”