FORT MILL — For Sherry Slate, this could be both her most memorable Christmas and the one she can’t wait to forget.
Slate, 43, a former Pleasant Knoll Elementary School PTO treasurer, was arrested earlier this month after officials noticed more than $35,000 missing from the parent volunteer organization, Fort Mill Police said. Slate admits taking the money in small increments for her personal use, and although she said she stole slightly less than the amount she’s accused of taking, Slate takes responsibility for her actions.
“One thing led to another, and I got behind on bills and I did something I shouldn’t have done,” Slate said. “I knew I was wrong.”
Charged with breach of trust with fraudulent intent, value $10,000 or more, according to Fort Mill Police, she turned herself in on Dec. 4 and was released on bond a short time later.
Since then, Slate said, she lost her job as an accounting manager for a Rock Hill company and fears her car and home will be next to go. She said she told her supervisor about the pending charges before turning herself in and that he was sympathetic, but ultimately it was out of his hands.
“When everything hit the news the way it did there was nothing he could do,” Slate said. “He told me the corporate office said the legal team said he had to let me go.”
Slate said she had “some financial problems” after her fiance died suddenly in 2011.
“This is something I’m very remorseful for,” she said. “This is not who I am. I was very depressed.”
A longtime Fort Mill resident, Slate said she hopes the community can find it in their hearts to forgive her.
“I am truly sorry for what I did to the PTO, the school and the community and I would like to please ask the staff of Pleasant Knoll Elementary School and the people of Fort Mill to please not take this out on my children,” she said.
“I am the one that did this, not them. I am trying my best to make this not affect their lives and keep everything as normal as possible for them. I love them very much and they have and will always be my first priority.”
Since the charges against Slate were first reported by the Fort Mill Times, Slate said her friends and family have been “very supportive” and that she’s heard from long lost friends.
“People I haven’t talked to since high school have contacted me, called, sent very support people I haven’t talked to since high school contact me with calls, texts, messages on Facebook all showing support,” she said.
The school’s PTO President Michelle Angeldorf, and Vice President Alecia Belt contacted police after discovering money missing from the PTO account.
“We had a transition of board members, and in turning over the books to a new board, an audit was performed and the fund loss was discovered,” Angeldorf said.
“Some of the improprieties were identified, which launched a full investigation in conjunction with the police department,” she said.
Slate stole the money between Dec. 14, 2011, and April 8, 2013, while she was treasurer, police said. She’s accused of taking $35,147.61 from the school for “her personal use,” Major Bryan Zachary said. Slate said the actual amount she took for personal use is $2,000 to $3,000 less than that.
“I have some receipts and proof that total isn’t correct,” she said. “There was some legitimate spending.”
So far, Slate has paid back about $7,000, she said, and plans to make full restitution. Slate, who hasn’t retained an attorney, said she hopes that coming clean and paying back the rest of the money will mean leniency from the 16th Circuit Solicitor’s Office, which is prosecuting the case.
Assistant Solicitor Matthew Hogge said he couldn’t comment specifically on Slate’s case other than to say no court dates have been scheduled. If convicted, Slate could face up to 10 years in jail and/or a fine that’s in the judge’s discretion.
In the meantime, Slate said “my house is about to be foreclosed” and that she’s fallen behind on her car payments.
“I’ll probably lose my house, my car and move back in with my parents,” if she can’t find a new job soon, she said.
“Right now I’m working on getting my resume out there and hopefully I can find a new job and get this behind me someday.”
PTOs in the district operates independently of the school and the school district and is run by parent volunteers.
The Pleasant Knoll PTO has a “very strong current board and members,” Angeldorf said.
“This is a scenario where it was just one person, the former treasurer, at fault,” Angeldorf said. “PTOs are a supportive system for the school. We hope no one will stop supporting the PTOs because of a single person.”
Teachers and staff at Pleasant Knoll were notified of the theft Dec. 3 and Angeldorf and Belt were preparing information to send home to parents.
They also met with district officials for advice on how to “navigate the situation,” they said. “They’ve been extremely supportive,” Angeldorf said.
“Even though the district and Pleasant Knoll Elementary School has fiduciary independence from the PTO and this is not a school district employee, we are concerned about this unfortunate situation and will support the efforts of law enforcement as the case unfolds,” Superintendent Chuck Epps said.
“We appreciate the efforts of the current PTO board for their transparency and moving forward to support the students of Pleasant Knoll Elementary,” he said.
Michael Harrison • 803-547-2353