Missing funds at South Whidbey High School Booster Club sparks case

The Island County Sheriff’s Office is working on a felony-level theft case involving what could be tens of thousands of dollars of missing funds from the South Whidbey High School Athletic Booster Club.

The case is an active investigation and police declined to go into details or publicly name suspects. Department spokesman Detective Ed Wallace did confirm the sheriff’s office has been working the case since July and that it may be looking at more than one person.

“There is potentially more than one suspect,” said Wallace, in an interview with The Record this week.

He also confirmed that several search warrants were recently issued; attempts to secure the public documents by press time were unsuccessful.

According to school leaders knowledgeable about the case, suspicions about booster club finances began late last year. The club, which functions primarily as a private fundraising arm for school sports teams, is an autonomous non-profit parent organization but partners with the district, and a school official typically attends monthly meetings.

Last year, monthly financial statements stopped being passed out. High school Principal John Patton said he inquired about them several times but received what he described as “evasive” responses. Once he was told that the organization wasn’t required to supply such information as it’s not a public entity, and another time that the club would only do so if the school district supplied its own athletic club budget.

Patton said he immediately agreed to do so, as school budgets are public records, but that his requests for financial statements were continually denied. His suspicions peaked when club officials later reported that money was stolen from a car.

“Some things really didn’t line up,” he said.

The lack of documentation and a communicated wish from the old board to step down resulted in a transition in club leadership this spring. Patton received a few additional records and turned them over to the sheriff’s office.

Just how much money is unaccounted for is unclear due to a lack of “checks and balances” such as receipts or financial statements, but Patton said from what he’d seen that it could be a significant amount.

“It could very easily be in the tens of thousands of dollars, but I’m no audit expert,” Patton said.

Wallace said he could not confirm the monetary amount, that the detective leading the investigation is working to establish that now. Also unclear is just how long any theft of organization funds may have been going on.

Patton said records suggest it was at least one year, but that it could have been two or three. That something was amiss was especially evident last year, he said; it was the first time in recent memory that the organization did not give out student athletic scholarships.

“They (club leaders) said they didn’t make enough money that year for scholarships,” he said.

Wallace couldn’t say when the department would wrap up its case, but that once the investigation is complete and if foul play was discovered it would forward a recommendation to the Island County Prosecutor’s Office to file charges.

Messages left at the home of the club’s current president requesting comment were not returned.

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