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Struthers woman charged with taking from PTA funds

STRUTHERS — A Struthers woman is due in court Friday on a charge of theft, accused of misusing funds from the Struthers Elementary PTA / PTO.

Jessica Hallquist, 35, of Creed Street, is accused of taking $32,664 from the school organization’s account, according to a police report.

An investigation began once Principal Dennis Hynes questioned a secretary about whether the organization for the elementary school was still active. He had found checks for the club in his office, left behind by a former principal. Hynes came to the district in the fall.

Pete Pirone, district superintendent, said that once aware of the situation, the district contacted law enforcement.

“There were suspicious transactions, and we immediately turned it over to the police department,” Pirone said.

The school secretary told the administration that a bank statement was received and provided it as the conversation regarding the organization was ongoing.

Two hundred transactions occurred between Sept. 13, 2019, and Aug. 26, 2020.

Investigators and administration grew suspicious after viewing withdrawals for Amazon, iTunes, Dunkin Donuts and other local places, the report states.

Cash withdrawals also were made outside the PTA’s banking institution, Struthers Federal Credit Union, when the district was on holiday and summer breaks as well as closed due to COVID-19.

Only two people were authorized to withdraw from the account: Hallquist and the PTA treasurer.

Each transation made was traced back to Hallquist, investigators confirmed.

When investigators asked Hallquist about the transactions, she admitted that “90 percent” of them were completed by her, and that she had a spending addiction “and knew that it was only a matter of time” before being questioned about it, the report states.

Hallquist told investigators that on two occasions her family fell on financial hardship due to overspending, but that she “took full responsibility of the fraudulent charges.”

“She apologized and took responsibility for her actions,” police Capt. Dan Mamula included in his statement.

Working with him, Mamula said Hallquist gave him outstanding balances she paid using her own money to “right a wrong situation.”

Struthers Law Director John Zomoida said that Hallquist is “cooperating to make restitution at this time.”

She’s working to repay the $32,000 “relatively soon,” he said, adding that if she does reimburse the PTA, it will be “taken into consideration when it comes time to resolve the case.”

If convicted, a fourth-degree felony theft charge could be punishable with six to 18 months in prison and a fine up to $5,000, Zomoida said.

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