HAVERHILL — Suspended Whittier Middle School teacher Daniel Francescone is accused of stealing $2,104 from three student dances and a campaign raising money for a student trip to Washington, D.C., through the sale of lollipops, according to court documents and police reports.
Francescone, 41, was arraigned Jan. 19 in Haverhill District Court on one count of larceny over $250 by single scheme, two counts of regular larceny over $250, and one count of larceny under $250. He was warned by the judge to stay away from city schools and is due back in court Feb. 28.
Superintendent James Scully suspended Francescone with pay Jan. 4.
Francescone, of 4 Bates Road, is accused of stealing $322 from a school dance held at Whittier on Sept. 17, $365 from an Oct. 22 dance, and $154 from a Nov. 19 dance. He is also accused of stealing $1,263 from the lollipop fundraiser, according to a police report by Officer Joseph Benedetti.
Police and school officials said another $2,800 is missing from the school store that Francescone was solely in charge of, but he has not been charged with stealing any money from the store.
An eighth-grade teacher hired in 1999, Francescone is the husband of former School Committee member Erin Francescone.
Francescone's lawyer, Alexander Cain of Andover, said his client "adamantly denies the allegations against him."
In a statement e-mailed to The Eagle-Tribune, Cain accused the school and police departments of conducting a shoddy investigation.
"Had the Haverhill police taken the time to interview the multiple witnesses who possessed evidence favorable to my client or reviewed the documentation provided by Mr. Francescone, these charges never would have issued," Cain said. "Mr. Francescone looks forward to contesting these charges in an open court of law and is confident he will be exonerated."
In his e-mail, Cain asked that any future inquiries be directed to his office. However, he did not return a phone call to comment on this story or respond to an e-mail asking him to elaborate on his written statement.
Last week, Erin Francescone said neither she nor her husband would have any comment on the allegations.
Police Chief Alan DeNaro declined comment on the case and referred questions to the Essex County District Attorney's Office. City Solicitor William Cox said police were not given any list from Francescone or his attorney of witnesses to speak to or evidence to review.
Little to no oversight
Police reports and other court documents detail when and why school officials began to suspect Francescone was stealing from student accounts used to buy supplies for the school store and pay for field trips and other student activities.
The documents said first-year Whittier Principal Toni Donais contacted Scully when she began to suspect Francescone was not turning in all of the money he collected at school dances. Donais replaced former Whittier Principal Mary Beth Kitsos this school year. Kitsos is now associate principal at the high school.
For the first two school dances, Francescone was allowed to run the dances and handle all of the money generated from the sale of tickets and refreshments himself. He would pay the DJ at the end of the night and take the rest of the money home with him, according to police reports.
The next day, he would bring the cash with him back to school, where he kept it in a locked closet in his classroom. He was to keep half of the money to buy supplies for the school store and National Honor Society activities, and turn the other half in to the main office for the school's technology and student activity accounts. The procedures that allowed him to be solely in charge of money for various student activities were put in place by Kitsos, according to police reports.
For the Nov. 19 dance, Donais changed procedures for running dances and accounting for money to involve more people and create a system of "checks and balances," according to Benedetti's report. Under the new system, Francescone was to pay the DJ with a check, and all money generated from ticket sales and the refreshment table was to be counted immediately and placed in a safe in the school office.
Donais told police that Francesonce was upset about the new procedures and got "angry" when Donais took $200 out of the cash drawer used to operate the refreshment table prior to the start of the Nov. 19 dance and replaced it with $60.
At the end of the night, Francescone returned the cash drawer with $85 in it. Donais told police she was suspicious of the low amount and directed a custodian working the dance, Luis Gonzalez, and a police officer providing security that night, William Alvarado, to collect and count empty bottles and snack wrappers from trash receptacles. They determined that $179 worth of food and drinks were sold at the dance, and that the cash drawer was $154 short, according to the police report.
Scully contacted Haverhill police after the Nov. 19 dance, and Benedetti was assigned the case under the supervision of Capt. Alan Ratte.
Donais told Benedetti she confronted Francescone about the missing money the day after the Nov. 19 dance, the police report said. Francescone told Donais he gave some of the money from the refreshment table proceeds to a teacher who was working the front door named Jean Terissi. Terissi denied that Francescone gave her any money, first to Donais and later to police, the report said.
Numbers don't add up
Until the procedures were changed by Donais, only Francescone knew how much money school dances and the school store were generating, the police report said. He also was in charge of purchasing merchandise for the store that was sold to students for a profit to fund the student activity account.
For the first 41 days of the school year, Francescone was solely responsible for running the school store, the police report said.
During that time, the store generated an average profit of $9.50 per day, the police report said. After Donais removed Francescone from running the store and set up a process in which the students who worked there turned in the money each afternoon, the store made in average profit of $111 per day, the police report said.
Lollipops for a campaign raising money for a student trip to Washington, D.C., are also sold at the school store. Excluding the lollipop money and money Francescone spent to buy supplies for the store, police said there was a difference of $58 per day between when Francescone ran it and when students turned in the money daily. The police report said there is a total of $2,800 unaccounted for at the store.
Police reports said Francescone initially purchased three cases of lollipops for $426. After all of the candy was sold, there should have been $654 in proceeds, the report said. Instead, Francescone turned in $451, the report said.
Francescone later ordered eight more cases for $1,136. At of the time of Benedetti's report on Dec. 24, four cases had been sold, which should have generated a profit of $1,440, the report said. As of the date of the police report, Francescone had turned in only $55 in lollipop money. School officials were able to account for another $225 in lollipop money sold at the school store, leaving $1,160 missing. Police have charged Francescone with stealing $1,263 from the lollipop fundraiser.
Benedetti and Ratte interviewed Francescone at the police station on Nov. 29. Court papers said Francescone was read his Miranda rights and agreed to have the interview taped. A union representative named Jeff Blaustein was with Francescone for the interview, court papers said.
During his interview, Francescone told police he took home $332 in refreshment table sales from the Sept. 17 dance and $365 from the Oct. 22 dance, the police report said. None of that money was ever turned in to the school, Donais told police.
School district policies on student account oversight differ
Area school districts go to varying lengths to watch over school bank accounts and prevent crime.
Methuen schools have the district's business adminstrator and its bookkeeper sign off on activity fund reports. Student activity funds for Lawrence schools are in bank accounts managed out of City Hall.
In North Andover, student activity funds are mainly under the control of building principals, according to school business manager Jim Mealey.
"We monitor the accounts at the upper level, but the handling of the funds and the security are down at the high school and the middle school level," he said.
Mealey and the district's account supervisor oversee larger accounts, and the district conducts yearly audits on large accounts.
High school and middle school principals oversee student activity accounts at the school level. The high school athletic director oversees the accounts for each athletic team. The district also conducts three-year audits on the student activity accounts.
"They track all of their receipts and their expenses so they account for everything that they receive," Mealey said. "There's always room for improvement, and we continue to try to improve."
Haverhill school officials recently suspended a middle school teacher accused of stealing money out of student activity accounts. Whittier Middle School teacher Daniel Francescone, 41, is accused of stealing $2,104 from three student dances and a campaign raising money for a student trip to Washington, D.C., through the sale of lollipops, according to court documents and police reports.
In Methuen, each school has one secretary assigned to collect funds. The district's bookkeeper writes the checks, verifies all deposits with the bank, balances the accounts on a monthly basis, and prepares a report that is signed by the bookkeeper, a school principal, and Glenn Fratto, the district's business administrator.
Fratto described the process in an e-mail to the Eagle-Tribune.
"Each check prepared by the bookkeeper is returned to the school principal for signature (the bank will only honor checks that include the principal's authorizing signature)," Fratto wrote. "Further, the list of checks written is provided to the city treasurer."
Methuen's various student activity accounts — which total approximately $250,000 at any given time — include clubs, field trips by grade level, student council, yearbook, awards events, and athletics, among others.
The city's auditing firm samples the student activities accounts periodically for accuracy, Fratto said. The School Committee also receives monthly reports on the funds.
Lawrence has a district policy in place governing student activity funds. According to Lawrence Superintendent Mary Lou Bergeron's office, all funds are managed in bank accounts out of City Hall, with each school having its own bank account.
— Alex Bloom
Daniel Francescone has been charged with stealing:
$1,263 from the sale of lollipops to fund a student trip to Washington, D.C.
$322 from a Sept. 17 school dance
$365 from an Oct. 22 school dance
$154 from a Nov. 19 school dance
(Police say $2,800 is missing from the school store he was in charge of, but he has not been charged with stealing money from the store)
Toni Donais, principal of Whittier Middle School
Mary Beth Kitsos, associate high school principal (former Whittier principal)
Eileen Spero, Whittier secretary
Jean Terissi, Whittier teacher
Luis Gonzalez, Whittier custodian
William Alvarado, police officer (provided security at Whittier dances)
Officer Joseph Benedetti (investigating officer)
Capt. Alan Ratte (supervising officer)
Jeff Blaustein, union representative for school personnel