State

90 days jail for embezzling from Riverbank school PTA

Two moms who pleaded no contest to embezzling from the Parent Teacher Association at Rio Altura Elementary School in Riverbank have been sentenced to 90 days in jail.

Joann Marie Nordell, 48, and Stephanie Ann Fisler-Pulido, 32, also must repay $2,500 each, although another mom who tipped off the authorities said the PTA's losses exceed $12,000.

The women withdrew cash, bought groceries and paid to remodel a bathroom with money students and parents raised to support their school.

Nordell and Fisler-Pulido must surrender to the Public Safety Center on Sept. 14 if they cannot secure spots in a home detention or work release program.

Paula Jaramillo, the PTA mom who turned them in, thinks Nordell and Fisler-Pulido should spend some time picking up trash on the side of the road.

"It wasn't like this was, 'Oops, I took the money,' " Jaramillo said. "They did it knowingly and blatantly."

Nordell and Fisler-Pulido could not be reached for comment.

According to Jaramillo and court records, financial troubles became apparent after the PTA decided to split into two groups, one for the elementary school and one for a charter school that grew out of a dual-immersion program on campus.

Jaramillo was tapped to lead the new PTA. Fisler-Pulido was president of the old PTA, and Nordell was the treasurer.

Jaramillo said she ran into resistance when she asked for financial information, adding that she eventually got bank statements and copies of canceled checks, then determined that PTA accounts had been mishandled.

The club didn't have any accounting of annual membership fees. And there was no money to pay a $6,400 bill to a cookie dough distributor.

Nordell and Fisler-Pulido were arrested in February 2008, six months after Jaramillo took her records to the Riverbank police.

According to an affidavit filed to support an arrest warrant, Fisler-Pulido withdrew cash on a regular basis, wrote checks to her husband and bought materials for a home remodeling project.

Nordell told authorities she took money after an April 2006 vehicle accident. She believed she would get a settlement and repay the money, but the settlement never went through, the affidavit said.

According to court records, the women may ask the court to reduce their felony convictions to misdemeanors once they have paid restitution. Each of the women pleaded no contest to one count of embezzlement.

The PTA carried insurance to cover such losses and was made whole long ago, Jaramillo said, but she still thinks the women should repay all of the money they took. She said she was shocked to realize that women who seemed so nice were stealing on the side.

"I'll work three jobs before I steal," Jaramillo said.

Bee staff writer Susan Herendeen can be reached at sherendeen@modbee.com or 578-2338.

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