A woman recently indicted on charges of embezzling $77,500 from Maryland's Department of Education was placed on the state's payroll while serving out a prison term for embezzling $388,000 from the Community College of Baltimore, according to court records and interviews.
The woman, Marion E. White, 41, was enrolled in a prison work release program when the department hired her as a part-time secretary -- a fact department administrators said they didn't know until it was too late.
Now prosecutors say they can't find Ms. White or the money raised by student dues, charity car washes and cake sales. After quietly resigning more than a year ago, Ms. White apparently disappeared.
"There was a lot of crying around here," said Katharine Oliver, assistant superintendent for the department's Career, Technology and Adult Learning Division, where Ms. White worked as a secretary for about two years.
"How can someone get away with this?" asked Frank Taylor, an adviser for one of the student groups at the Frederick County Career & Technology Center. "It really irritates me that someone took the kids' money like this."
Embarrassed state educators said this week that they were flat-out fooled by Ms. White, who was indicted by a Baltimore grand jury two weeks ago on eight counts of theft and forgery.
A bubbly, well-liked woman, Ms. White kept her past a secret when she applied to the department and while she worked her way through its ranks, winning a promotion to a position overseeing the student accounts, department officials say.
Ms. White was referred to the department by a temporary employment agency, according to a department spokesman.
The owner of the agency said she didn't recall representing Ms. White and said company records from the mid-1980s no longer exist. But she said her agency routinely tells employers when applicants represented by her agency are on prison work-release programs.
"Every time we send someone out from the prerelease center, we tell them," said Jo Ann Hogan, president of Able Personnel & Office Service in downtown Baltimore. "
Educators said they were never told about Ms. White's 1983 conviction -- at the time the biggest fraud case in city history -- and didn't know she still was serving a prison sentence when she came to the department in 1984.
An administrator who supervised Ms. White for several years said that no one told her about the conviction. Ms. White did not mention the community college on her resume, and the education department never checked her background or asked if she had been convicted of a crime.
"I never knew," said Martha J. Fields, former deputy assistant superintendent for schools and special education, the division that hired Ms. White. "She fooled a lot of people."
In the early 1980s, Ms. White began forging checks from the Community College of Baltimore's tuition accounts. At the time, she was a 12-year city employee working as an account clerk supervisor.
She made checks out to herself, friends, siblings, even her niece, cashing them against the tuition accounts between 1980 and 1982, according to records and interviews. She was convicted of siphoning $388,000 from the college; prosecutors charged 20 other people in the scheme.
The total take from the college: nearly $900,000. The money was never recovered.
"It was quite a theft," the former prosecutor, Dario J. Broccolino, said this week. "When I found out what happened at the Education Department, I was flabbergasted. . . . The case was there, if anyone bothered to look."
In March 1983, Ms. White pleaded guilty to theft charges. A judge went easy on the first-time offender. He suspended seven years of her 10-year sentence, gave her five years on probation and ordered her to pay $5,000 in restitution.
Ms. White served three years, first at the Women's House of Correction in Jessup and later in a work-release program in Baltimore.
Seven months before her release from the work program, she went to the Education Department as a temporary secretary. She was referred by Able Personnel, according to Ron Peiffer, a department spokesman.
Because Ms. White never worked with children, the Education Department did not require a background check. Also, the department does not require applicants to say whether they have been convicted of a crime.
"When you fill out an application, obviously you go on what people give you," Mr. Peiffer said. "It appears she did not give us the full picture on her application."
At first, Ms. White was a picture-perfect employee. She came to work on time. She pitched in to help co-workers handle heavy workloads.
"She was warm, caring and thoughtful," said Ms. Fields, the former deputy assistant superintendent. "She was an excellent worker."
On March 23, 1985, the state Division of Corrections freed Ms. White from the Baltimore Pre-Release Center for Women. Two months later, the Education Department hired her as a full-time secretary in the special education division.
For the next five years, Ms. White was as a top-flight performer. When a position opened in the Career, Technology and Adult Learning Division in 1990, she applied.
"She got excellent references from within the department," said Ms. Oliver, the assistant superintendent in charge of the learning division.
L Soon, Ms. White was handling bank accounts and blank checks.
This time, the accounts belonged two student groups, Vocational Industrial Clubs of America and Health Occupation Students of America. Both are state chapters of national groups, set up to teach trades to high school students.
"She was the fox guarding the henhouse," said Mr. Broccolino, the former prosecutor.
According to court documents and interviews, Ms. White allegedly started to write checks off the two accounts, forging the signatures of two department fiscal officers and cashing them at banks and a check cashing store,
In September 1992, Ms. White, whose last known address was in the 2800 block of Hilldale Ave. in Northwest Baltimore, resigned, citing "personal reasons."
Within days, checks written against the accounts began to bounce. Department administrators said they were stunned when they heard that the accounts were empty.
What's more, their trusted employee of eight years was missing.
The department called the attorney general's office. Investigators said they discovered that every document in Ms. White's office -- bank records, canceled checks, balance sheets -- was also missing. They were forced to re-create what happened.
On Jan. 27, 1994, 16 months after Ms. White resigned, the grand jury indicted her.
"A large amount of time has been spent trying to find her and re-create all the records," said Carolyn Henneman, deputy chief of criminal investigations for the attorney general.
The missing money had been set aside for training programs for students in Maryland and to send them to the "Skill Olympics," regional and national conferences where they demonstrate their crafts and compete for titles in their fields.
Administrators said the programs were not interrupted and the missing money has been replaced by the students. They also said they have transferred the financial responsibility for the accounts to the treasurers of the student groups.
Still, educators say they won't forget Ms. White any time soon.
"What she did is so contrary to the message of integrity that we try to teach to our kids," said Harold Lewis, a national director of the Vocational Clubs of America.