Restitution hearing under way for Pleasant Valley school embezzler
The restitution hearing for a woman convicted of embezzling funds from a parent teacher club got under way in court Friday, and will continue next month with the defendant testifying on her own behalf.
Michelle Huni was arrested in March 2014, after members of the Pleasant Valley Elementary School District Parent Club reportedly realized Huni stole nearly $10,000 from the group’s account while serving as president of the club.
In late 2015, Huni failed to appear for a pre-trial conference and subsequently was arrested in Oregon and charged with a felony count of failing to appear while on bail.
After a trial in July, Huni was found guilty of absconding after she fled the state, with a potential enhancement for failing to appear while out on bail for a felony.
Huni was set to go to trial on the embezzlement charges, but opted to plead no contest to grand theft by embezzlement, welfare fraud and perjury for aid. Her plea was entered as a “West plea,” meaning she was not admitting to the charges.
Nevada County Superior Court Judge Candace Heidelberger denied probation, and sentenced Huni to four years, with 20 months to be served in jail and the remainder to be served under mandatory supervision.
During the restitution hearing, parent club volunteer Shari Oitzman testified that she had been involved in nearly daily activities at the school district for about eight years, and attended all the club’s board meetings.
Oitzman said that Huni and Karyn Malak were the only ones authorized to sign checks, and were supposed to co-sign.
She had helped a criminal investigator prepare a two-page list of expenses that had not been authorized, she said, adding that any expenses should have been discussed and approved at the board meetings.
Oitzman said there were some expenses that did not follow the process that she had determined were legitimate by correlating the expenses to events put on by the club.
She testified that she had determined the amount spent without authorization or justification was $9,183.69.
“There were expenses that had no receipts, but we gave her the benefit of the doubt” for expenses that might have been associated with events, Oitzman said. “I looked … at dates and thought about what we did for that event, I tried to rationalize everything. These are the (expenses) I couldn’t rationalize. This list is things that in no way could be argued to be for the PTC.”
District Attorney criminal investigator Dominic LaFountain testified that he initially investigated Huni as a member of the Sheriff’s Major Crimes Unit.
LaFountain said that he interviewed Huni and that she told him some of the expenditures made on the club’s account were not legitimate.
She reportedly spent nearly $150 on clothing, and also used club funds to buy makeup and to pay a PG&E bill, LaFountain said.
Huni told LaFountain she had a received check from her mother to reimburse the account, and that she had done so. LaFountain said he could not find that deposit when he reviewed the account.
Club secretary Karyn Malak testified the account had a debit card, and that any request for reimbursement was to be brought to board meetings.
Malak said it was not board policy to use the account to purchase items, but to reimburse parent purchases.
Several district teachers testified for the defense, mainly in regard to reimbursements to teachers for put of pocket expenses by the parent teacher club.
The hearing was set to resume Oct. 28.
To contact City Editor Liz Kellar, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4229.
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