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Thursday, Sep 21, 2017
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Treasurer charged with theft from Springhead Elementary PTA

TAMPA - When Lisa Shirah became treasurer of the PTA at Springhead Elementary School near Plant City, there was more than $25,000 in the group's bank account. A few months later, authorities said, the total was less than $600. Police say the 34-year-old dental assistant and former PTA mom altered and forged checks and stole more than $16,000 from the fund that was supposed to pay for a variety of things to help students at the school that serves a lot of poor families. Shirah was arrested by Lakeland police Friday and charged with 16 counts in relation to the missing funds. She faces single charges of grand theft and scheming to defraud, six charges of both forgery and uttering a forged instrument and two counts of theft of personal identification information.
There was the $3,500 check written to herself in March for a spring fling event that never occurred, police said. There was a $2,500 check made out to herself for a barbecue dinner that didn't happen. Then there was the $35 check for stamps that was altered into a $3,500 check for stamps, spring fling money and reimbursement. Altogether, police said that nine fraudulent checks were written between January and June. Six of them were cashed and three of them were deposited in the joint account for her and her husband at MidFlorida Credit Union in Lakeland. "What did she do with all of that money?" asked Katrina Yale, who described herself as a former friend of Shirah. "We're talking thousands of dollars here. I don't know what her deal is. "She needs to go to prison," Yale added. "Stealing from the PTA? Come on. That's the lowest of the lows." Shirah returned a reporter's phone call Monday afternoon, but said she didn't have time to talk because she was too busy at work. Lakeland police say they don't know what happened to the money, and may never know. The PTA's financial troubles came to light when second notice and late bills were mailed to the school, at 3208 Nesmith Road, for items that already should have been paid, an arrest affidavit said. Principal Ann Rushing and the school's secretary asked Shirah several times to bring in PTA books to help figure out what bills had or had not been paid, police said. Shirah declined, and only brought in the books after being told that police were getting involved. To write or cash a check, Lakeland police said, two other authorized PTA representatives must also sign the check. Shirah is accused of signing the name of Liberty Libretti, a former PTA board member, on multiple checks. Emma Angeles, another former board member, said she signed eight of the nine checks. "Victim/Witness Angeles explained that Defendant usually approached her when she was in a rush and asked her to sign checks that were not yet made out," the affidavit said. "Victim/Witness Angeles advised that she trusted Defendant Shirah and signed eight of the nine checks without question." Three of the checks were made out to her husband, John, records show. Shirah's troubles with PTA funding didn't come as a surprise to Yale. She said she once gave Shirah $850 to pay for a cruise to the Bahamas that never happened. Shirah had collected as much as $10,000 to $15,000 from friends and family members, Yale said. "The next thing you know, there was no cruise," Yale said. "I called the police and they said all I could do was take her to small-claims court." The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office also is investigating Shirah, but its investigation focuses on much smaller dollar amounts and likely will be referred to the State Attorney's Office for potential prosecution.

rshaw@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7999

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