A former Western Maryland principal denied at her federal trial yesterday that she falsifed invoices and defended herself against charges that she took more than $18,000 intended for classroom books and travel reimbursements.
Diane L. McFarland testified for more than three hours in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, choking up as she relayed details about her personal finances.
McFarland, 52, who was making $72,000 a year as principal of Cash Valley Elementary School in LaVale, said she had two credit cards and a mortgage to pay off in 2004, and that she always "paid ahead on the mortgage."
Prosecutors said she became so burdened by a $52,000 debt that she counterfeited invoices from a program her school was involved in to get government money.
But as McFarland's attorney, Fred Warren Barrett, placed invoice after invoice in front of her, the Frostburg resident denied having anything to do with their creation.
"Absolutely not," McFarland said after seeing an invoice dated May 5, 2004, for $2,240.
McFarland said she did purchase materials from the Success for ALL program but paid cash out of her own pocket, sending thousands of dollars through multiple installments in the mail and expecting to be reimbursed.
Asked why she would send large amounts of cash in the mail, McFarland said time was a factor as she had to have the grant money spent before the end of the school year.
Federal prosecutors also say the longtime Allegany County employee skimmed money from travel reimbursements.
McFarland and two other teachers made several out-of-state trips as part of the Success for ALL program, which allocated $300,000 -- plus an extra $12,000 for administrative costs -- to the school for three years beginning in 2001.
McFarland and the teachers went to San Antonio in November 2001 and received a $5,000 advance for the trip. Although grant administrators told McFarland she and her staff would have to double up in rooms, McFarland testified that she made a pact with the teachers that if they each had their own rooms, they would pay for their own meals.
School officials made the same pact for subsequent trips to San Francisco, New York City and Atlanta.
McFarland, however, claimed lodging expenses and more than $1,600 in meal expenses for a March 2004 trip to Atlanta, one she did not attend because of appendicitis.
"I was concerned with that because I felt like I was doing something I wasn't supposed to be doing," McFarland said of allowing teachers the individual rooms. "But I have to live with the teachers, too.
"No one ever told me that I couldn't do that."
McFarland testified that she received a $7,000 advance for the Atlanta trip and sent the leftover money after food and lodging back to the grant administrator. McFarland was suspended with pay in November 2004 and is now retired from the school system.
Cross-examination will begin today.