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Dept of Education accountant accused of embezzling nearly $1 million

08:59 PM PST on Monday, February 11, 2008

By JULIA SILVERMAN, AP Education Writer

SALEM, Ore. -- A former accountant at the Oregon Department of Education is facing federal fraud charges after embezzling nearly $1 million intended for charter schools, anti-drug youth initiatives and school-based health programs, according to documents filed late last week in U.S. District court.

File photo

Brent Crosson, who was fired from his job as the department's director of accounting services last August, diverted $925,000 to CGA Wholesale, an online guns and ammunition dealer that he controlled, according to the court documents filed by the U.S. Attorney's office.

So far, federal investigators have recovered $750,000 of the money, and expect to recover the rest, according to Deputy Schools Superintendent Ed Dennis.

Crosson, 36, seems likely to accept a plea deal, officials at the Department of Education said. His attorney, Paul Ferder of Salem, did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

"I am neither judge nor jury, but if Mr. Crosson is convicted, I hope the penalty is severe," said State Schools Superintendent Susan Castillo. "To say that the acts alleged in the complaint are reprehensible understates how appalling I find this."

The Crosson case surfaced just months after Fred Monem, the former food services administrator for the Oregon Department of Corrections was indicted on charges of conspiracy, fraud, bribery and money laundering. The two cases have raised questions about the vulnerability of accounting procedures in other state agencies; the Department of Administrative Services has launched a full review of the education agency's system.

According to the charges filed by the U.S. Attorney's office, Crosson used his knowledge of the education agency's accounting procedures to issue payments to CGA Wholesale, then transferred funds from the online company's accounts to his personal accounts.

Officials at the state Department of Education say that no other employees appear to have been involved in the alleged fraud, and that Crosson may have forged the documents that enabled his staff to process the transfer of funds to CGA Wholesale without raising any red flags, and may have destroyed any documentary evidence.

The missing money was discovered after an anonymous tipster notified agency officials that he had taken an office chair for his personal use; that tip led to a wider investigation.

As a result of the Crosson case, the Education Department has hired a new accounting director, stepped up its background checks on new employees who handle finances and expanded its ethics training for staff.

"We are telling staff, you have to question things and you will be protected," Dennis said. "They need to know that they can and should come forward."