Former Lake Ridge schools official facing additional $10,000 charge in audit, inquiry

2013-07-03T18:49:00Z 2013-07-03T23:43:51Z Former Lake Ridge schools official facing additional $10,000 charge in audit, inquiryBy Carmen McCollum, (219) 662-5337

CALUMET TWP. | The Indiana State Board of Accounts released its final report Tuesday regarding an investigation into the activities of the former Lake Ridge Community Schools business manager who allegedly stole more than $133,000 from the district.

James Huddleston, of Wheatfield, was released from his duties April 4 following a meeting with school district officials and the Board of Accounts. Huddleston had been with the district about five years.

The report has been turned over to the Indiana attorney general and the Lake County prosecutor's office for action. In April, a Jasper County judge froze Huddleston's assets.

The state's investigation indicated that in addition to the $133,000, Huddleston would be charged another $10,602 as a result of additional fees and audit costs.

According to the report, the money was used for personal expenses such as credit card bills, utility expenses, medical bills and household expenses.

Paul Joyce, deputy state examiner for the Indiana State Board of Accounts, said the money Huddleston allegedly used came from employee health care and prescription benefit programs and refunds and rebates from vendors, which should have gone into the school district's general fund account.

The report, covering the period of Sept. 29, 2011, to April 4, 2013, was released Tuesday.

The issue came to the district's attention when the credit union reported suspicious transactions to the Lake Ridge School Board president, who in turn reported it to Superintendent Sharon Johnson-Shirley.

Huddleston allegedly established an account at a local credit union in the school district's name but he was the only authorized signature to the account, Joyce said. The report also said Huddleston applied for and received an ATM card, making cash withdrawals and buying gift cards. Auditors said Huddleston was not bonded and was not listed as a covered position in the crime policy.

Johnson-Shirley released a statement Wednesday, saying: "We now have to wait for further direction from the Office of the Attorney General. We are saddened by the results of the investigation and expect all levels of law to be enforced. We are surprised by the lack of honesty, lack of integrity and lack of loyalty by James Huddleston that this investigation has uncovered."

Johnson-Shirley said the district hired the consulting firm, Educational Services, to conduct an internal audit, and it has reported that the Lake Ridge district continues to comply with the Indiana State Board of Accounts standards and state law.

Johnson-Shirley also said the district is "committed to ensuring that all employees possess the highest ethical standards" and is focused on a successful 2013-14 school year.

Lake Ridge Schools hired Laura Hubinger as its new business manager, replacing Huddleston.

Joyce said officials met with Huddleston May 14, who had no response. However, Joyce said Huddleston has hired an attorney. Huddleston could not be reached for comment.

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