- Andrew Marra Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
A former Bak Middle School of the Arts treasurer suspected in the disappearance of more than $66,000 in school money was arrested Friday on check-forgery charges related to the case, nine months after authorities had ruled out criminal charges against her.
Cathleen Spring, 53, was booked into the Palm Beach County Jail shortly after midnight Friday on charges that she forged signatures on two school checks to cover up missing or misspent money at Bak Middle, police records show.
Spring, who resigned in 2015 during a months-long police investigation, is not being charged with stealing the missing money, which police say totaled more than $66,000 and vanished gradually over three years from the school’s safe.
Instead, police arrested her on lesser charges of official misconduct and forgery, alleging that she forged the Bak Middle principal’s signature on two checks in 2014 and 2015, court documents show. Forgery and official misconduct are both third-degree felonies punishable by up to five years in prison.
Police called Spring’s alleged forgeries “attempts to conceal” both the disappearance of thousands of dollars from school coffers and her use of a school credit card to make a “personal purchase,” according to a police report.
The reversal comes after nearly two months of criticism of state prosecutors since The Palm Beach Post revealed that they declined to charge Spring despite police evidence tying her to the vanished money, a forged check and the use of school money to cover personal expenses.
The Palm Beach County State Attorney’s Office rejected the case in September as “circumstantial,” saying it was impossible to prove that Spring had stolen the money that vanished after police say she removed it from the school’s safe. The money has never been recovered.
In two articles last month, The Post revealed that prosecutors — in dismissing the case against her — discounted evidence that Spring admitted to forging the principal’s name on a $7,433 check and using a school credit card to buy two pairs of boots and to cover part of the cost of her son’s airfare.
Neither Spring’s attorney nor a spokesman for State Attorney Dave Aronberg responded Friday to messages seeking comment. A school district spokeswoman declined to comment, citing the pending criminal case.
Though the reason for the reversal was not known Friday, records show that in early June school district police composed a new arrest report alleging that Spring had forged the signature of Bak Middle School Principal Sally Rozanski on two checks.
The first check, a $7,433 check to cover sports uniform purchases, was written after Bak Middle’s athletic director complained to Spring that an internal sports account had less money in it than it should.
Questioned months later, Spring told police that she signed the principal’s name on a $7,433 check to cover sports uniform purchases, ones that were supposed to be paid out of the mysteriously low sports account. Police theorized it could have been intended “to conceal the theft of (the) funds.”
Police say that in 2014 Spring also signed Rozanski’s name on a second check worth $181, this time to cover, in part, airline fees she had paid with a school credit card for a flight her son, who did not attend the school, took on JetBlue.
“Ms. Rozanski was available to sign these checks,” Detective Kevin McCoy wrote in the arrest report. “However Ms. Spring chose to forge Ms. Rozanski’s signature. This fact could indicate Ms. Spring did not want Ms. Rozanski to be aware of these two checks and possibly question the invoice and the issuance of the checks.”
Earlier this week, Palm Beach County School Board member Frank Barbieri criticized Aronberg, saying his office “ignored” evidence of multiple crimes by Spring. He suggested that the school board should sue Spring in connection with the missing money.
School Board member Debra Robinson, who supported the proposal to consider a lawsuit, said Friday that she hoped “justice is served fair and square.” She added that the school district’s attorneys need to weigh the case further before moving forward with a lawsuit.
“I think (the legal staff) should give thought to guidelines regarding ‘going after the public’s money’ when there has been theft,” she said.