Maryland State Education Association Covers Up $433,784 Theft

Police arrested former Worcester County Teachers Association treasurer Denise Inez Owens and charged her with theft of $433,784 from the union.

The theft was originally made public back in January, when a routine public records search revealed that WCTA had its tax-exempt status revoked and had reported to the IRS an embezzlement of more than $100,000. Owens, using her then-married name of Denise Tull, was forced to resign in March 2009 and reached a restitution agreement with the union. The theft was reported to the bonding company but never to law enforcement authorities.

Once the story was published, local police launched their own investigation, culminating in the charges against Owens, though they received little help from the current WCTA officers.

“They didn’t necessarily say it didn’t happen,” said Detective Kyle Clark, lead investigator on the case. “They didn’t want to talk about it. They weren’t cooperating.”

Current WCTA president Helen Schoffstall said when the story originally broke that “WCTA did not lose any money. WCTA finances were not out any money to my knowledge.” The confusion on this is coupled to an obvious question: How did the treasurer of a local with only 600 members and annual dues income of less than $100,000 even manage to steal such a vast sum?

The answer was simple and ultimately confirmed by WCTA’s parent organization, the Maryland State Education Association. Owens didn’t steal WCTA’s money. She stole the state and national dues money she was supposed to be passing up the line.

The MSEA statement read:

Charges recently have been filed against Denise Owens, former elected treasurer of the Worcester County Teachers Association (WCTA), an affiliate of the Maryland State Education Association (MSEA). When MSEA discovered that WCTA had fallen into arrears in its scheduled state transmission of dues, the association confronted Ms. Owens, then treasurer of WCTA. Although Ms. Owens promptly resigned her position as treasurer and agreed to restitution, MSEA triggered a full investigation, including a forensic audit, which was submitted to a bonding company. The investigation determined that the funds in question were owed to MSEA and NEA rather than WCTA, and that the local dues money was not part of the mishandled funds. Ultimately, the bonding company’s investigation was closed with no criminal or civil action and an agreement for restitution from Ms. Owens. Following this incident, MSEA and WCTA immediately implemented procedural changes to create greater transparency and oversight and avoid any future similar occurrences. At no time was there a loss of programs or services to WCTA members due to this issue.

Apparently this “greater transparency” didn’t involve letting anyone outside the inner circle know that almost half a million dollars had disappeared. As long as the bonding company covered it, who cares, right? MSEA and NEA went back to collecting dues, Ms. Owens went back to teaching middle school, and the members were able to maintain their blissful ignorance of union wrongdoing. Everybody wins!