Trinity Christian’s athletic director Heath Vandevender, who is accused of embezzling nearly $400,000 in employee tax withholdings during a seven year period at the Fayetteville private school, was on the sidelines this weekend coaching Trinity’s boys basketball team, the Fayetteville Observer reported.
Vandevender continues to be employed at the private religious school despite facing allegations that he “aided and abetted the corporation [the private school’s umbrella non-profit, Truth Outreach Center, Inc.] to embezzle, misapply, and convert to its own use $388,422.68 in North Carolina Withholding Tax,” according to the Department of Revenue’s press release.
Vandevender was released on $50,000 bail following his arrest last week in Raleigh on charges of embezzlement, the Observer reported.
Trinity Christian School in Fayetteville is the state’s top recipient of publicly funded Opportunity Scholarships, also known as school vouchers. Since the program’s inception in 2014, Trinity Christian has received close to $1 million in tax dollars.
Rev. Dennis Vandevender, the leader of Trinity Christian School and father of Heath Vandevender, confirmed in a phone call last week that he would continue his son’s employment in spite of the allegations.
Dennis Vandevender referred questions about his son’s charges to his attorneys; however, he did say he believed that the allegations regarding the embezzlement of employee tax withholdings would have taken place prior to the time the school began receiving the taxpayer-funded Opportunity Scholarships.
“I think it’s up to 2013,” said Vandevender about the time period during which the embezzlement may have occurred.
The NC Department of Revenue’s press release states that the time period regarding the alleged embezzlement of funds was during the period January 1, 2008 through December 31, 2015.
North Carolina law requires that schools receiving more than $300,000 annually in publicly-funded Opportunity Scholarships must conduct an annual financial audit; however, the statute does not require schools to turn those audits over to the state nor must they be public record.
The North Carolina State Education Assistance Authority, the state agency that oversees school vouchers, does have additional financial reporting rules in place that require Trinity Christian to submit their financial audit to the agency; the financial audit for 2015-16 is currently under a standard review, the agency says, and pending that review, they will release the documents associated with the financial audit within a month.
The SEAA also requires the following: “If the Financial Review report documents significant findings regarding the Eligible School’s administration of Program funds, the Authority may withhold Program funds from the Eligible School until the findings are resolved.”
The Opportunity Scholarship program was enacted by lawmakers in 2013 to provide low-income families with taxpayer funded vouchers that they can use at private, largely religious schools. The program has been criticized for its failure to comprise robust transparency and accountability measures that ensure tax dollars are spent only at high quality institutions of learning.