POLK COUNTY, Fla. -- A former charter school administrator was arrested by deputies Tuesday on charges that she defrauded The Schools of McKeel Academy of more than $100,000.
The former Assistant Director of Academics, Ginger Collins, 45, of Lakeland, is accused of creating fake companies to intentionally direct school travel and other discrepancy funds into online banking accounts she created under the names of her co-workers. The total amount of embezzled funds reached $105,426.34.
According to the Polk County Sheriff's Office, Collins was granted access to five of the school's credit cards in November 2015 to arrange purchases of a faculty trip to Finland and other school-related activities.
The alleged fraud continued until September, 2016 when the accounting department discovered that Collins purchased a prom dress and fake eyelashes. The receipts which Collins filed for the transactions were marked as "Legacy Funds" and "Marketing," which prompted a larger audit of Collins' activity.
The trail led accountants to Collins' planning of the Finland trip scheduled for December 2016 for 18 staff members. Collins used the $150,000 budgeted for the trip, but the school found out that the trip would only cost around $95,000.
Detectives said the remaining $47,000 surplus was hidden through three fake companies Collins with which she would bill her employer. They included 'Elite Travel,' 'Finpedia,' and 'Atticusprint.'
They added that Collins went as far as creating a fake website for Elite Travel through the Square Space domain host. The website hosting fees were also paid through one of the school's credit cards.
Collins would then allegedly funnel the payments for the fraudulent invoices through online processing accounts from SquareUp, PayPal and Stripe which were opened up under the identities of three fellow employees without their knowledge.
From these accounts, Collins moved the money into her checking account and used that money to pay personal bills, buy clothing and home furnishings, according to the affidavit.
Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said Collins purchased items like a "fat blaster" and a knit hat.
"So I guess the fat blaster was so the nitwit would look good in the nitwit hate," Judd said.
With a complete picture of Collins' fraudulent activity, the director of the Schools of McKeel Academy, Alan Black, confronted her about the embezzlement. She confessed to the theft on September 9, 2016 and resigned that day.
The months-long PSO investigation revealed through electronic records that Collins used her work computer to set up the fake payment accounts and submitted invoices with amounts matching the credit card purchases.
Judd said the chances of ever recovering the money are low.
"Sometimes you recover the money; most of the time you don't," he explained.
She was charged with one count of grand theft, fraudulent use of a credit card, money laundering and three counts of criminal use of personal identification.
Collins made an initial court appearance Wednesday, where her bond was set at $39,000.
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