tampabay.com

Teacher faces theft charge

A Tampa high school's seniors are the alleged victims.

DONG-PHUONG NGUYEN and LETITIA STEIN
Published February 9, 2007


TAMPA - For months, the Chamberlain High School seniors picked up trash, washed cars and served hot dogs to help pay for their upcoming prom and other graduation activities.

For safekeeping, they turned over earnings to the senior class adviser, a popular teacher at the school.

But according to Tampa police, adviser Cheryl Maria Foster-Lawrentz deposited the money into her personal bank account, embezzling almost $10,000 from the students.

"Everyone is appalled," senior class president Maritza Dandache said Thursday outside the school. "It's very surprising."

Maritza said the seniors washed cars every weekend over the summer and got paid by the booster club to pick up trash around the school on Saturdays. However, their big moneymaker was working the concession stands at Raymond James Stadium during sporting events, where they earned a percentage of the sales, earning about $1,000 a game, Maritza said.

Tampa police Sgt. Jim Contento said Foster-Lawrentz deposited 21 checks into her personal account at Suncoast Schools Federal Credit Union from November 2005 to December 2006. The school was alerted to the deposits by a credit union employee who grew suspicious. The checks, totalling $9,559.15, were made out to "Chamberlain High School."

Chamberlain assistant principal Mimi Howlett said the credit union is returning the stolen money to the students. A spokesman for the credit union could not be reached to confirm that.

Foster-Lawrentz has been charged with felony counts of grand theft and fraud. The 32-year-old teacher from Land O' Lakes was free on bail Wednesday afternoon.