School Cafeteria Worker Accused in Theft of Lunch Money

For years, the "lunch lady" has been the target of jokes in the popular media, even becoming the subject of a song by comedian Adam Sandler.  For Yukon Public Schools, however, the alleged antics of one cafeteria worker are no laughing matter. After noticing discrepancies in the deposits of Lakeview Elementary School in Yukon, Oklahoma, school officials began an investigation. Their investigation uncovered evidence that implicates former cafeteria manager Connie Lynn Wise, 54, in the theft of more than $8,000 in lunch money intended to prepay student lunch accounts.  Wise resigned from the school district when she was confronted about the missing money by Yukon Public Schools officials. Authorities say Wise manipulated accounts by backdating meal payments in the computer system.  According to court records, Wise is accused of taking and concealing money on approximately 150 school days last year; state law requires a minimum of 175 school days per year.  An affidavit states, "With few exceptions, the only days that money was not missing were the days that the defendant did not come to work due to illness."  Yukon Public Schools Superintendent says that Wise's connection to the theft was discovered when school officials found handwritten notes Wise allegedly wrote to keep track of the cash so she could later manipulate the accounts. Embezzlement, or appropriating for personal use money or property with which one is entrusted, is defined under Title 21 § 1451 of the Oklahoma Statutes: A. Embezzlement is the fraudulent appropriation of property of any person or legal entity, legally obtained, to any use or purpose not intended or authorized by its owner, or the secretion of the property with the fraudulent intent to appropriate it to such use or purpose, under any of the following circumstances: 1. Where the property was obtained by being entrusted to that person for a specific purpose, use, or disposition and shall include, but not be limited to, any funds "held in trust" for any purpose; 2. Where the property was obtained by virtue of a power of attorney being granted for the sale or transfer of the property; 3. Where the property is possessed or controlled for the use of another person; 4. Where the property is to be used for a public or benevolent purpose; 5. Where any person diverts any money appropriated by law from the purpose and object of the appropriation; 6. Where any person fails or refuses to pay over to the state, or appropriate authority, any tax or other monies collected in accordance with state law, and who appropriates the tax or monies to the use of that person, or to the use of any other person not entitled to the tax or monies; 7. Where the property is possessed for the purpose of transportation, without regard to whether packages containing the property have been broken; 8. Where any person removes crops from any leased or rented premises with the intent to deprive the owner or landlord interested in the land of any of the rent due from that land, or who fraudulently appropriates the rent to that person or any other person; or 9. Where the property is possessed or controlled by virtue of a lease or rental agreement, and the property is willfully or intentionally not returned within ten (10) days after the expiration of the agreement. Embezzlement does not require a distinct act of taking, but only a fraudulent appropriation, conversion or use of property. The penalties for embezzlement in Oklahoma depend upon the value of the misappropriated property of funds.  The Oklahoma embezzlement statute enumerates the penalties based upon the value of stolen money or property: 1. If the value of the property embezzled is less than Five Hundred Dollars ($500.00), any person convicted shall be punished by a fine not exceeding One Thousand Dollars ($1,000.00), or by imprisonment in the county jail for a term not more than one (1) year, or by both such fine and imprisonment; 2. If the value of the property embezzled is Five Hundred Dollars ($500.00), or more but less than One Thousand Dollars ($1,000.00), any person convicted shall be guilty of a felony and shall be punished by imprisonment in the county jail for not more than one (1) year or by imprisonment in the county jail for one or more nights or weekends pursuant to Section 991a-2 of Title 22 of the Oklahoma Statutes, at the discretion of the court, and shall be subject to a fine not exceeding Five Thousand Dollars ($5,000.00), and ordered to pay restitution to the victim as provided in Section 991f of Title 22 of the Oklahoma Statutes; 3. If the value of the property embezzled is One Thousand Dollars ($1,000.00) or more but less than Twenty-five Thousand Dollars ($25,000.00), any person convicted shall be guilty of a felony and shall be punished by imprisonment in the custody of the Department of Corrections for a term of not more than five (5) years, and a fine of not exceeding Five Thousand Dollars ($5,000.00), and ordered to pay restitution to the victim as provided in Section 991f of Title 22 of the Oklahoma Statutes; or 4. If the value of the property embezzled is Twenty-five Thousand Dollars ($25,000.00) or more, any person convicted shall be guilty of a felony and shall be punished by imprisonment in the custody of the Department of Corrections for a term of not more than ten (10) years, and a fine not exceeding Ten Thousand Dollars ($10,000.00), and ordered to pay restitution to the victim as provided in Section 991f of Title 22 of the Oklahoma Statutes. If convicted of embezzling $8,270 from the school district, Connie Lynn Wise faces up to five years in prison, a fine of up to $5,000, and restitution to the district.  According to a court affidavit, Wise denies taking the money, but told school officials she would like to pay restitution because, as the manager of the cafeteria, she feels responsible for the mishandling of cafeteria funds. If you or someone you love has been accused of embezzlement, theft, or misappropriation of funds, finding a skillful attorney can mean the difference between acquittal and conviction.  To find a white collar crime defense lawyer in Oklahoma, visit the white collar crimes page of our criminal defense website, Oklahoma-Criminal-Defense.com.

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