OLATHE, Kan. -- A Shawnee Mission School District employee has been charged with stealing more than $12,000 from the district.
The alleged theft occurred for over a year. Some of the expenditures, just a few dollars.
Law enforcement officials believe that cases like the one involving Mikita Watson-Burton are so important because not only are they thefts from the district but they're stealing from the entire community, too.
“Anytime you have a government or public entity where money is taken, it is basically taking from the taxpayers,” Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe said.
Court records show that from August 2017 until August 2018, prosecutors believe Watson-Burton stole $12,567.73 from the Shawnee Mission School District.
As the Secretary of Elementary Services, she was responsible for making purchases for the district’s 33 elementary schools and had a district Visa purchasing card to do so.
Prosecutors said not only did Watson-Burton allegedly buy things for the schools -- but also for herself, including women’s clothes, meals, smoothies and gas. Charges were made to stores like Amazon, Walmart, Hy-Vee, Olive Garden, Science City and Chick-fil-A.
Two payments to Burns and McDonnell for a camp and five payments to community colleges for her children were also allegedly found charged to the district’s card issued to Watson-Burton. She also allegedly used the card to pay her rent.
“And what we have learned over the years is no matter what safeguards you put into place, there are work-arounds, and if somebody really wants to embezzle money, they will find those opportunities to do it,” Howe said.
When a district employee noticed some odd expenditures on Watson-Burton’s district Visa, it triggered an internal audit of her account. In total, court records state Watson-Burton made 174 unauthorized purchases.
When confronted, court records say Watson-Burton admitted to buying things from her work computer but said they were mistakes. She claims the purchasing card information was loaded in the computer and would auto-fill when she was buying personal items, but she didn’t notice.
“What we see in so many instances is long-term employees who are trusted by small businesses,” Howe said. “Allowing them to have freedom to do whatever they want and that is where we see some of the most egregious losses. Because there are nor safeguards in place, no second set of eyes and those are the real tragic ones because many times those businesses end up closing up shop that losses are so devastating.”
Watson-Burton had no explanation for the items bought off-site on her district-issued purchasing card.
While Howe would not comment on this specific case, he did talk about these types of thefts.
“One of the things we try to teach businesses when we go out and speak to them, just put some safeguards into place that may not avoid all potential losses but will limit those losses,” Howe said. “Things like having a second pair of eyes to take a look at it, do an occasional audit of your books to make sure multiple people see the books and approve those processes.”
The Shawnee Mission School District has an expense and approval process in place. Anything bought must be documented with a receipt and explanation on a monthly expense report and signed off by a director.
According to court records, Watson-Burton’s reports were signed off on by her boss, who told police she did not know anything about them.
Watson-Burton denies using her boss’s credentials to sign in and approve her own expense reports.
Watson-Burton and the Shawnee Mission School District declined interviews with FOX4.
Editor's note: You may recognize Watson-Burton, as she has been a regular guest on the FOX4 Morning Show.