Barnes must repay embezzled school money

Paula Barnes was sentenced to 30 days in the county jail and 10 years of probation today by Judge Deborah Oaks-Evans of the 87th District Court of Anderson County.

Paula Barnes, 61, is back in the Anderson County Jail, six months after getting 10 years' probation for embezzling more than $100,000. Barnes was arrested Thursday for violating the conditions of her probation.

It's unclear why her probation was revoked. It could be for a so-called technical violation, such as missing appointments with her probation officer, or she could have committed a new crime. If her violation was of a technical nature, she would most likely spend under a year in custody.

Barnes was sentenced in April of last year to 30 days in the Anderson County Jail and 10 years' probation for embezzling $111,000 from the Palestine Independent School District in 2015 and 2016. She had no previous criminal record.

Judge Deborah Oaks Evans, of the 87th District Court, ruled that Barnes must pay the money back, in addition to court fines. She also must perform 400 hours of community service.

Barnes, the administrative assistant to David Atkeisson, PISD's chief financial officer, was arrested for embezzlement in January 2017 and released on bond. She had worked for the school district business office for 25 years.

One of her duties as an administrative assistant was depositing activity funds from events and student fundraisers.

The investigation began in March 2016, when another employee reported a discrepancy in funds. In June of 2016, Barnes confessed to school district officials that she was taking cash from the activity deposits in the amount of $60,000 to $80,000.

Barnes was then terminated; an external auditing firm confirmed the theft in August 2016.

The audit revealed Barnes moved funds for the district's Head Start program into activity funds that were missing part of their cash deposits. A sum of $71,400 was found missing from the Head Start program.

Barnes also worked additional after-hours jobs, including cleaning the administration building and working sporting events.

After the outside audit confirmed the theft, school administrators contacted the Texas Rangers for an internal investigation. The case was then turned over to the Anderson County District Attorney's Office, which presented the Rangers' findings to a grand jury. Barnes was true-billed by the grand jury and indicted in January 2017.

During the trial, Texas Ranger Nicholas Castle testified he had investigated her personal bank records, including bank statements, loans, checks, and cash deposits. He was a key witness for the prosecution.

Anderson County District Attorney Allyson Mitchell presented evidence of checks written to her son, Jason Barnes, in amounts ranging from $200 to $26,000. Jason Barnes was not present at the hearing, but the defense stated he had a gambling problem.

In 2016, Jason Barnes told his mother he would give her the settlement from a lawsuit. She would then repay the school district, she said.

Mitchell highlighted luxury items paid through Paula Barnes' credit card accounts, such as purchases from QVC, the home shopping network, $2,000 for a Carnival Cruise, and two checks of more than $4,000 paid to Ivan Smith Furniture.

Barnes also testified she used cash to pay her personal expenses and many loans.

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