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Despite background checks, FBI fingerprints and calls to references, Washoe County School District Police Chief Mike Mieras can be surprised when it comes to vetting potential district employees.

Mieras started making calls to Michigan on Saturday on a tip that a Sparks principal had been sentenced for embezzlement.

“We acted on it right away, and as soon as we had some information, we put steps in motion,” said Mieras of Andrew Stansberry, a Sparks principal who was sentenced for embezzlement while working for the Benton Harbor School District in southwest Michigan from 2007 to 2009. A few hours after the tip, Stansberry was put on administrative leave.

A story printed last week in the Herald-Palladium, a newspaper in St. Joseph, Mich., said Stansberry admitted to embezzling $26,796 from a fund for field trips, retirement gifts and school supplies when he was the principal of an elementary school.

He was sentenced to pay back the money, to serve 30 days in jail next summer and five years on parole.

Stansberry has been a principal at Moss Elementary School since 2011. The Washoe County School District said Stansberry did not inform school officials of the charges or his sentence.

Attempts by the Reno Gazette-Journal to reach Stansberry were unsuccessful.

Mieras said the district did not know about Stansberry’s legal troubles because charges were not filed against the 43-year-old principal until April. All background checks are done prior to a person being hired.

“We have a good relationship with our local agencies, who let us know if a Washoe County School District employee has been arrested — but that’s here,” Mieras said.

A policy started over the summer will avoid situations like this in the future, Mieras said.

“One of the things we instituted is that anyone hired out of state or our county, we will do a more in-depth investigation,” Mieras said. “We will call the school and talk to people randomly. We will contact police and the courts where that person resided for any information about a candidate.”

Mieras said most people applying for a job with the school district are truthful. He said a handful are advised every year that they aren’t candidates because of their background checks.

People are usually disqualified as job candidates for felonies, gross misdemeanors, being on parole or crimes involving children, he said. They also are removed from consideration for lying on an application.

Mieras said based on the information received as of Monday, Stansberry likely would not have been considered for a job.

“We have very high standards for anyone who is in contact with a child,” Mieras said.

Things such as traffic violations would not be an issue, he said.

The district also started a policy six months ago asking employees to inform a supervisor of legal issues.

Stansberry has been put on administrative leave while the school district police conduct an investigation. Mieras said his investigation should be finished in a day or two.

The information will be given to the district’s human resource department, which will make a final call on Stansberry’s future employment. The district said plans are in place for his school duties to be covered.

Parents with children at Moss were notified about the situation Monday through Blackboard Connect, the school district’s mass notification phone system.

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The lack of thorough, pre-employment background checks at the D.C. Office of the Chief Financial Officer has been a concern since 2001, when city officials learned that the agency’s general counsel was not a lawyer.

Saamir Kaiser, whose job was to give legal advice to Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi, was convicted in 2002 of embezzling $250,000 in city funds, which he used to help pay for his wedding and honeymoon, and a Mercedes-Benz. An internal investigation found that Kaiser, who had served as Gandhi’s general counsel for five months, had falsified his credentials. Kaiser had previously worked in a D.C. law firm and as a staff lawyer with the D.C. financial control board.

“He had a cloak of legitimacy. But if they were doing these background checks in advance, they should have caught it,” said Jerry Malone, who was subsequently hired as the agency’s general counsel.

Malone said that then-Mayor Anthony A. Williams urged Gandhi to better vet potential employees. “The idea was that situations like Mr. Kaiser shouldn’t occur again,” he said.

Concerns were raised again in 2008 by Deputy Chief Financial Officer Stephen Cordi, hired by Gandhi to restructure a tax office rocked a year earlier by a $48 million fraud involving tax refunds, the largest embezzlement in District government history.

Cordi told internal affairs staff members that the agency needed to conduct more vigorous background checks before hiring. “Cordi believes that [the tax office] is a prime breeding ground for potential bribery of line employees,” according to an internal report recently obtained by The Washington Post. “Cordi felt that without some pre-employment screening, bad hiring decisions are made. Hiring an unqualified, ill equipped or morally corrupt employee can be even more costly before they are fereted [sic] out and terminated.”

The same year, then-D.C. Auditor Deborah A. Nichols conducted a review of the background check policy at the agency. She found that the agency conducted background checks only after employees were hired and that the investigations could take months to complete.

Nichols recommended pre-employment criminal and financial checks of all employees who handle money. “They said it was time and money,” Nichols said. “I think we’ve got both.”

In a written statement, agency officials said that most job candidates receive a screening prior to hiring that includes verification of degrees, current salary and a “Google search.” Agency officials said senior executives are screened more heavily with checks of civil and criminal court records, tax liens, education verification and employment history.

Background checks are conducted in-house after employees are hired, the agency said.

Tax office chief Cordi, in a written statement, said the concerns he identified to internal auditors in 2008 “have long-since been addressed to the satisfaction of internal and external auditors, although, like all other internal controls, they are constantly reviewed and improved.”

Agency officials added: “The hiring process within the [agency] is a lengthy one. As a practical matter, we must balance the requirements of pre-employment screenings with the agency’s need to fill positions and effectively deliver needed services.”

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Anita Collins, a 67 year old employee in the finance office of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York has been charged with siphoning $1 million in donations. Ms. Collins was arraigned last week on charges of grand larceny and falsifying business records and faces up to 25 years behind bars if convicted.

Church and law enforcement officials report that over a seven year time span, Collins created fake invoices, sending them to the archdiocese and then issuing checks to accounts she controlled.  All of the some 450 checks were in amounts just below the $2,500 threshold that would have required a supervisor’s approval.

The archdiocese reported that it did not conduct a criminal background check on Ms. Collins when she was hired in 2003.  If they had, they would have learned that Ms. Collins had previously plead guilty to criminal charges in fraud schemes at other New York employers in 1986 and 1999.

The archdiocese says it now conducts criminal background checks on all employees.