Former PTO president faces 10 years in prison

Posted at 7:58 PM, Mar 29, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-29 22:32:12-04

Nearly six months after missing money was discovered, a woman has been charged with stealing from the Waukesha Hawthorne STEM Parent-Teacher Organization.

Jaime Cutts, the former PTO President, faces 10 years in prison and up to $25,000 in fines. According to the criminal complaint, Cutts "stole approximately $14,372 from the PTO."

"We take fundraising very seriously. We teach our kids it's important to be involved," said now-vice president Ryan Bennett. "To see it kind of be for nothing - it's disheartening," he said.

Bennett became the PTO's new vice president after going to a meeting to express his anger about the situation.

Upon discovering the missing money in October 2015, PTO members decided to allow the person who stole it to pay the money back. They made an agreement that no criminal action would be taken pending payments.

Filings against Cutts say she paid back $5,000 to the PTO account until August 2015.

TODAY'S TMJ4 acquired emails sent about the situation. The school district was informed of the situation, and disagreed with the agreement between Cutts and the PTO, but couldn't do anything about it. The PTO was privately incorporated.

In one email, the school principal Tina Koch writes "If someone takes money from a bank, or store, this would not be okay. Taking money from the PTO account was not simply unethical, or dishonest; it was against the law."

A member of the board, who asked not to be identified, offered her resignation after the agreement saying "I have grave reservations about how we are proceeding, and the outcome of not seeking legal council and not reaching out to the police department before we go public."

The PTO informed the rest of the parent population at Hawthorne STEM Elementary in January 2016. TODAY'S TMJ4 talked with parents who couldn't believe this happened. Many wondering why the board would decide not to press charges.

The principal urged parents in another email to separate themselves from friendships and remember their obligation to the school and the students. The same parent who resigned due to her reservations said she didn't believe the members of the PTO could make an unbiased decision because of relationships.

The Waukesha Police Department told TODAY'S TMJ4 this situation proved frustrating to them, as well. Upset parents called and visited the station asking officers to press charges. However, law enforcement could only press charges if the necessary information was brought to them by the PTO board. The now-replaced PTO board wouldn't cooperate.

"People had knowledge of this and unfortunately those people didn't come forward," said Capt. Dan Baumann. "I believe they thought this would go away."

Current vice president Bennett said as soon as he and the new board immediately turned over records when they were appointed. That's when the investigation kicked off, three months after the PTO board found out about the stolen money.

"Our integrity is how we raise money. And we raise money for our children and the school," said Bennett.

Bennett hopes parents will learn to trust the organization once again. The group has put new rules in place to prevent another theft, including; a financial committee, a requirement that the board sees bank transactions monthly and three parents sign off on money amounts after fundraiser.

He views this new board as a new chapter- and a chance to encourage parents to be involved. He said the more involved parents are, the less chance there is something would happen they don't like.

We have reached out to Cutts for comment. She has not responded. She is expected in court on April 11.