Cody teacher charged with stealing from student account

A Cody High School special education teacher stands accused of stealing hundreds — and possibly thousands — of dollars that had been raised for the school’s special needs students.

Terri Stegelman, who resigned from the Cody district in November, faces misdemeanor counts of wrongfully appropriating public property, theft and official misconduct. She pleaded not guilty to the three charges at an appearance in Park County’s Circuit Court earlier this month.

The charges specifically relate to allegations that, in July, Stegelman transferred $600 from an account that was mostly made up of the proceeds of fundraising efforts led by special needs students.

However, an affidavit from Cody Police Detective Justin Dollard filed with the case alleges that Stegelman also stole another $2,149 — for a total of nearly $2,750 — after taking over the management of the account last year.

Dollard reviewed various financial statements and concluded that, with dwindling funds in her personal accounts, Stegelman stole from the special needs account to cover her own expenses, including a mortgage.

She reportedly refused to talk to Cody police about the allegations and her attorney, Brigita Krisjansons, didn’t respond to an email from the Tribune.

Stegelman worked for the Cody school district for more than 17 years — from August 2000 until Nov. 21, when she submitted a letter of resignation, said Park County School District No. 6 Superintendent Ray Schulte. Court records say that, in addition to contacting Cody police about the suspicious transactions, the school district conducted its own internal investigation.

“I can’t say much about it,” Schulte said of the situation. “It’s a personnel issue, so I just can’t comment on it.”

He noted that Stegelman is presumed to be innocent.

Stegelman became the treasurer/secretary of the Vocational Training Center’s (VTC) fundraising account and took over its management in August 2016, charging documents say.

The account holds the proceeds of various fundraisers conducted by special needs students, including popcorn/concessions sales, car washes, vending machine purchases and other activities. The money is used for “a variety of things” for the special needs students in the VTC program, Schulte said, such as equipment, classroom supplies or field trips.

During the 2014-15 and the 2015-16 school years, an average of about $5,500 was raised each year, detective Dollard wrote in his affidavit.

But “deposit amounts and frequency dropped off drastically” during the 2016-17 school year, when Stegelman took over as treasurer, Dollard wrote; only about $2,500 went into the account — a more than 50 percent drop from the prior year.

In the affidavit, the detective cites bank records to make the case that Stegelman was stealing from the “VTC/Job Box” account.

For instance, Stegelman became the sole signer on the fundraising account on Jan. 23 — and on that same day, she deposited $350 in cash into her checking account, Dollard wrote.

The detective says it was only after Stegelman took over the VTC account that she began depositing cash into her own bank accounts. The deposits also seemed to arrive whenever Stegelman’s funds were running low, the affidavit says.

Cody school officials said Stegelman had not kept any records of popcorn or vending machine sales, which made it hard to compare how much money was actually raised versus how much made its way into the account, Dollard wrote.

However, the records appear to be more clear about three transfers made in July.

On July 19, bank records show Stegelman transferred $200 from the VTC/Job Box account to her personal checking account and then spent or withdrew the money in Tennessee, charging documents say. Two more $200 transfers were made on July 24, followed by various personal purchases in Cody, Dollard wrote.

Stegelman reportedly claimed to school officials that she’d used the $400 taken on July 24 to buy a treadmill for Cody High School’s life skills program. However, Dollard was unable to find any record of such a purchase.

The suspicious transactions were first discovered in October, when a bank statement for the account wound up in the hands of a different special education teacher. That teacher noticed the money that had been transferred out of the account in July and notified a supervisor, helping launch an internal investigation.

Schulte reported the allegations to Cody police on Oct. 20, which culminated in the filing of the charges on Dec. 12. Stegelman turned herself in at the Park County Detention Center the following day and was released on her own recognizance after her initial court appearance later in the day.

A trial is tentatively set for April 19.

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