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No jail for teacher in thefts
She is not welcome in Hillsborough schools, but keeps her license.
By COLLEEN JENKINS
Published July 12, 2007
Cheryl Foster-Lawrentz pleaded guilty to organized fraud in exchange for a plea agreement that requires her to serve up to 18 months of probation. The probation automatically terminates as soon she repays $9,701, performs 50 hours of community service and undergoes a psychological evaluation.
[Times photo: Carrie Pratt]
TAMPA - For stealing nearly $10,000 from Chamberlain High School seniors, Cheryl Maria Foster-Lawrentz will avoid jail time and remain conviction-free.
She also won't lose her teaching license, though she is no longer welcome in Hillsborough schools.
That was the fallout Wednesday for the onetime teacher of the year, who police said pocketed money that her students earned to pay for prom and graduation activities.
Foster-Lawrentz, 33, pleaded guilty to organized fraud in exchange for a plea agreement that requires her to serve up to 18 months of probation.
The probation automatically terminates as soon as the Land O'Lakes woman repays $9,701, performs 50 hours of community service and undergoes a psychological evaluation.
Circuit Judge Debra Behnke withheld adjudication, so Foster-Lawrentz won't have a criminal conviction on her record. Prosecutors dropped a grand theft charge.
One student said she and her friends agreed with the punishment - except for one thing.
"I just can't believe that she can still teach," said Maritza Dandache, president of Chamberlain's 2007 senior class. "Teachers are supposed to be role models, and I don't think she exemplified those characteristics at all."
Calling Foster-Lawrentz a good wife and mother, attorney Roger Futerman said she made a poor decision "when money was an issue."
"Prior to this, she led a model life," the attorney said. "This was an aberrational act."
The former teacher, who didn't want to talk to reporters, said little in court.
"I'm sorry," Foster-Lawrentz told the judge. "I regret it."
"What was going on?" Judge Behnke asked.
"A lot of things," she said.
"That doesn't make a whole lot of sense," Behnke said.
Foster-Lawrentz was serving as senior class adviser when she deposited 21 checks into her personal account at Suncoast Schools Federal Credit Union between November 2005 and December 2006, according to Tampa police.
Students had raised the money picking up trash, washing cars and working the concession stands at Raymond James Stadium during sporting events.
The checks were made out to "Chamberlain High School." A credit union employee grew suspicious and alerted the school.
Foster-Lawrentz's restitution will go to the credit union, which donated the money to the school in time for prom and graduation. Futerman said his client has put her home on the market and would be able to pay off the entire restitution once it sells.
No students or school officials spoke at Wednesday's sentencing. Prosecutor Jennifer Gabbard said they requested the community service requirement given the teacher's "violation of trust."
Futerman said his client reads to children at a church and volunteers at the Learning Gate Community School and asked that she be able to perform her community service there.
After court, he said if Foster-Lawrentz ever returns to teaching, "she'd do an excellent job."
But schools spokeswoman Linda Cobbe said that chance won't come in the school system that employed Foster-Lawrentz for 10 years.
"This agreement disqualifies her from ever working for us again," Cobbe said. "She doesn't meet our standards."