by Anthony Hennen
A Philadelphia-area public school finance director was sentenced to more than a year in prison after he embezzled $100,000 from a school district over a seven-year period.
Christopher Gehris, an employee in the Phoenixville Area School District and its finance director since 2018, stole $94,613 from the district, according to a press release from the Department of Justice.
“Gehris cashed checks made payable to himself and to ‘cash,’ received checks and direct deposits into his personal checking account for ‘start-up money’ for student activities, stole cash from school programs, and obtained gift cards for personal expenditures,” the statement said.
He hid the theft by altering receipts and falsifying reports sent to the board of school directors.
“Criminals that embezzle public money from schools are ripping off hundreds of students while also ripping off all taxpayers who fund them,” U.S. Attorney Jennifer Arbittier Williams said.
Gehris had resigned from PASD after an internal audit found discrepancies and were reported to local authorities. He will be required to serve 14 months in prison and repay the embezzled funds. He had faced a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
PASD hired an independent firm to conduct a forensic audit, which was made public after the Department of Justice’s investigation closed. It showed that Gehris spent money on Lego kits and a Nintendo Switch, NBA tickets for a Philadelphia 76ers vs. Los Angeles Lakers basketball game, a check with “start up money” for its description, and other expenses.
The audit indicated that the school district had an insufficient segregation of duties for cash management, programs that were “off-book” and “mostly outside of the PASD control environment,” and limited knowledge of accounting in the business office except for Gehris.
“Today’s ruling allows all parties to begin moving forward,” the district said in a statement posted to its website. “Mr. Gehris’s actions negatively impacted the students, parents, community and District. The District thanks the Phoenixville Police Department, Federal Bureau of Investigation, the US District Attorney and the Federal Courts for their work and thoughtful deliberations.”
While Gehris was embezzling money, the district’s spending increased from $78 million in 2012-13 to $91 million in 2019-20.
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Anthony Hennen is a reporter for The Center Square. Previously, he worked for Philadelphia Weekly and the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal. He is managing editor of Expatalachians, a journalism project focused on the Appalachian region.
Photo “Phoenixville Area School District” by Phoenixville Area School District.