This story was first reported on tetonvalleynews.net on Friday, December 21. It was updated online on Dec. 22.
The Teton School District called the Teton County Sheriff’s Office on Thursday, Dec. 20 to report a possible fraud. School district officials reported that an employee of the district office had sent $784,833.71 to a fraudulent account accessed through the school district’s email account, according to the sheriff’s office.
Superintendent Monte Woolstenhulme confirmed that the payment, mostly school bond funds that were meant for Headwaters Construction, had been paid out to the fraudulent account.
"It was one of the monthly construction payments,” said Woolstenhulme on Friday. “We have been making construction payments since we started and these funds are from the bond.”
The case, said Teton County Sheriff’s Office’s Mitch Golden, has been forwarded to the regional FBI agency that will be heading up the investigation.
Woolstenhulme said that the school district’s insurance carrier, ICRIMP, has been notified and will do their own investigation. There was no word as of Friday, Dec. 21 as to how much of the funds would be covered through the insurance company. Woolstenhulme added that the district is conducting its own internal investigation.
Teton School Board Chair Chris Isaacson said Friday evening that the school employee who handled the transaction was placed immediately on leave from the district.
Isaacson said it was on Friday that she and the rest of the board were told about the loss and that officials were still trying to wrap their minds around the news.
“This is extremely devastating for our community,” Isaacson said. “For this to happen to our community is very sad and disheartening. We try to be stewards to our community and its a disheartening situation.”
Isaacson couldn’t speak to the ongoing investigation by the FBI and didn’t have a timeline as to when the payment was made and when it was realized that the payment was made to a fraudulent account. She did add that there will be no immediate impact on the district or the building plans moving forward and was confident that the district’s insurance would cover the loss.
A similar incident of fraud occurred in March 2017 when almost $20,000 was paid out to a fraudulent bank account. Those funds were recovered through the district’s insurance carrier, ICRIMP.
She said after that March 2017 incident, the district implemented protocols to safeguard against something like that happening again. An internal school-led investigation into what happened with the $784K will help the district move forward in implementing more stringent policies she said.
Isaacson said that she will call an executive session of the board after the Christmas holiday to discuss the investigation and personnel issues around the event. Woolstenhulme said the issue will be discussed at the first board meeting of the new year on Jan. 7, 2019.