Crime

Former Team Success charter school bookkeeper facing charges she stole more than $341,000

The Manatee County Sheriff’s Office is investigating a threat to Team Success, a Title I charter school in Manatee County, that was reported Tuesday morning.
The Manatee County Sheriff’s Office is investigating a threat to Team Success, a Title I charter school in Manatee County, that was reported Tuesday morning. ttompkins@bradenton.com

The former bookkeeper at a Bradenton charter school is facing fraud charges after an investigation into allegations that she stole more than $341,000 from the school and its management firm.

Melissa Tapia, 41, was fired in September just four days before Team Success reported allegations of the theft on Sept. 14 to the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office, according to incident reports.

For about nine years, Tapia worked for Spence Management Services, which is outsourced by the school. The theft was first uncovered when the Manatee County School District found discrepancies during an audit of the school’s finances. When the school began investigating the discrepancies, they discovered fraudulent charges had also been made using Spence’s business account.

Tapia was suspected of having stolen as much as $250,000 from the school and $91,496.28 management company, according to the initial reports. Detectives with the sheriff’s office just recently concluded their investigation into the allegations and sent the case along with a capias request to the State Attorney’s Office, according to sheriff’s office spokesman Randy Warren.

“The State Attorney’s Office is going to be putting out a warrant. We’re waiting for that to happen,” Warren said.

The warrant is expected to be issued as soon as early next week, and Tapia could face at least two scheme to defraud charges.

A call and email to Team Success seeking comments from Principal Armando Viota-Garcia and Chief Executive Officer Frederick Spence, who is also the manager of Spence Management, were not returned Friday. A call to Tapia also went unanswered.

“According to Fredrick, Melissa was an extremely trusted employee and he would have never expected anything like this to have occurred,” a deputy wrote in the initial reports.

In addition to bank records, the sheriff’s office was given Tapia’s laptop and hard drive as evidence in the case.

Viota-Garcia told the same deputy that Tapia had admitted through her attorney that she had stolen $225,000 through 47 separate fraudulent checks. But the principal suspected there were 80 fraudulent checks totaling $250,000. The alleged fraudulent charges from the school’s account are reported to have begun in May 2017 and from the Spence business account in January 2017.

According to what Viota-Garcia initially told the sheriff’s office, Tapia is expected to turn herself in to law enforcement when a warrant is issued.

According to court records, Tapia has had personal financial struggles in previous years. Tapia filed for bankruptcy in 2015, and the case was still pending when the initial fraudulent charges were reported to have occurred in 2017.

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