Woman charged in state scholarship-program theft

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Marion Holmes By Jennifer Thomas Marion Holmes By Jennifer Thomas
By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman

PHOENIX (AP) -- An office manager has been indicted for stealing more than $500,000 from an Arizona scholarship program that assists needy students, Goodyear police said Friday.

Marion Holmes, 60, was accused by a grand jury in Maricopa County Superior Court of 35 counts involving fraud, theft, forgery and other offenses, police spokeswoman Lisa Kutis said.

Holmes allegedly misappropriated at least $529,000 from the Arizona School Choice Trust for personal use, Kutis said. A majority of that money was funneled into a bank account Holmes had for her printing business, Equipped Business Solutions, Inc., according to the indictment.

Kutis said she did not know if Holmes, who lives in Goodyear, had an attorney. A message left at a number listed for Holmes was not immediately returned Friday.

The Arizona School Choice Trust is a school-tuition organization approved by the state that helps children from low-income backgrounds attend private schools of their choosing.

The trust doles out funds through three state tax-credit scholarship programs.

"It's impossible to understand why someone would do this and why someone would take funds from kids who otherwise wouldn't have any opportunity in their lives," Trust Executive Director Elizabeth Dreckman said.

She said Holmes was hired as a full-time office manager and consultant six years ago. She got along with colleagues and gave no reason for people not to trust her, Dreckman said.

But in May 2013, Dreckman discovered missing funds. She and board members reported it to Goodyear police.

A subsequent investigation led police to Holmes. She was arrested June 2013 and fired immediately, Dreckman said. The entire organization was shocked by the discovery, she said.

"It's very disheartening when someone takes advantage - especially of an organization that helps children," Dreckman said. "I'm very thankful we discovered this problem, and the authorities have been absolutely wonderful in helping us to recover the funds so our families are made whole."

Holmes' alleged crimes date back to May 2010 when she purportedly used a company credit card to spend more than $34,000 for herself, according to court documents. Other allegations include making thousands of dollars in wire transfers and check deposits into the bank account of her printing business. She also is accused of forging checks in the name of the trust's executive director.

In all, Holmes is facing 18 counts of theft, 13 counts of forgery and one count each of fraudulent schemes and artifices, fraudulent use of a credit card, money laundering and receipt of anything of value obtained by fraudulent use of a credit card.

"That sounds kind of crazy," said real estate broker Chris Campbell, whose office is a few doors down from where the printing business used to operate. "I mean, I guess you don't know what someone is behind what they look like, but she was just a nice woman and seemed to run a nice business, and I had good luck with everything I did with them."

Holmes' theft should not affect the amount of money the program can give, Dreckman said. The trust expects to fund scholarships for more children this year than last year, she said.

The trust also is taking multiple legal actions to recover the stolen money, Dreckman said.

"It's a huge betrayal of trust but I'm confident," Dreckman said. "That's why we've been working with the authorities over the last year. They're helping us to recover the funds."

Dreckman said she has also taken steps to prevent this type of situation from happening again in the future.

"We take very seriously helping as many families as we can," she said. "We are continuing to do that in spite of this.