The athletic director of a private religious school that has received the most publicly-funded school vouchers in the state of North Carolina was arrested this week on charges of embezzling from the school nearly $400,000 in public tax dollars, the Fayetteville Observer reports.
Heath Curtis Vandevender is charged with embezzling $388,422 between Jan. 1, 2008, and Dec. 31, 2015, from Truth Outreach Center Inc., located in Fayetteville. Trinity Christian School, which has received nearly $1 million in publicly-funded school vouchers since 2014, is under the Truth Outreach Center’s umbrella, according to the Fayetteville Observer.
The funds that Vandevender is accused of embezzling over a seven year period are allegedly taken from employee withholding tax money that was to go to the N.C. Department of Revenue.
Vandevender “aided and abetted the corporation 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.
It’s unknown whether or not federal tax funds that the organization is supposed to withhold from employee paychecks and submit to the federal government were also misappropriated.
Trinity Christian School in Fayetteville has received $958,440 in Opportunity Scholarship funds (also known as school vouchers) since 2014. The program allows low-income families to use up to $4,200 annually in state-funded vouchers at private, mostly religious schools. While proponents of the program say it offers low-income families access to better education alternatives than what may be offered by public schools, critics point to the fact that there is not enough accountability associated with the state-funded program. (Read more about that here.)
There is, however, a requirement in state law that private schools receiving more than $300,000 annually in publicly-funded voucher funds must contract with a certified public accountant to perform a financial audit.
I’ve requested copies of Trinity Christian’s financial audits from the state and I’m waiting for a response. Since the statute doesn’t specifically say that the audit must be turned over to the state or made public, it’s possible that it won’t be available.*
Efforts to learn more from representatives at Trinity Christian have been unfruitful.
“We’re not talking about it right now,” a woman answering the phone said. In the middle of my next question, she hung up on me.
*This post has been updated. A previous version of the story said that voucher schools receiving more than $300,000 must submit a financial audit to the state; in fact, they are only statutorily required to perform a financial audit, not turn the results over to the state or make the audit public.