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VALPARAISO — Several people were on hand Monday morning to watch as a not guilty plea was entered on behalf of the former president of the parent advisory council at the Discovery Charter School in Porter, who is charged with stealing nearly $58,000 from the group.

Lisa Apato sat quietly at the front of the courtroom during the initial hearing in the criminal case with defense attorney Mitch Peters, who was filling in for attorney Bob Harper.

She is charged with a level 5 felony count of theft, which carries a potential sentence of one to six years behind bars, according to court documents.

Apato is accused of taking the money by slowly withdrawing $35,105 and failing to deposit another $22,842 from several fundraisers and reimbursements, charging documents say.

The theft was reported to police two years ago and she was charged in late September.

Further hearing dates were set in the case for Feb. 3 and March 2.

A treasurer for the parent group told police when she took office in July 2016, she began asking Apato, who was then the president, for access to the financial records, police said.

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"Apato, however, would always come up with an excuse as to why the records were unavailable," according to the charge.

It was not until August 2017, once Apato left office, that the treasurer gained access to the records and noticed missing funds, police said.

Apato is accused of withdrawing money from the group's bank account 19 times using checks and 17 times using an ATM card, police said. Police say she also used the ATM card on 32 occasions to buy items for her personal use or for personal expenses.

Her failure to deposit funds into the group's bank account dates back to December 2015 and occurred on six occasions, according to charging information.

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Porter/LaPorte County Courts and Social Justice Reporter

Bob is a 23-year veteran of The Times. He covers county government and courts in Porter County, federal courts, police news and regional issues. He also created the Vegan in the Region blog, is an Indiana University grad and lifelong region resident.