Many Port residents were shocked last week when they learned that a lifelong member of one of Port's multi-generational families, Angela Prudente, was arrested and charged with stealing more than $45,000 from the Port Washington Paraprofessional Association. She had been working in the social studies department at Schreiber High School before resigning from her post last August. The alleged crime took place between April 22, 2001 and June 22, 2004 and was discovered over the summer when the union conducted an audit and discovered a shortfall.
The 51-year-old divorcee pleaded not guilty to a charge of third-degree grand larceny at her arraignment in First District Court in Hempstead.
Prosecutors said that she used PWPA ATM and debit cards to withdraw money from the union's bank account to supplement her personal expenses such as gas, lodging and purchases at stores like Old Navy and Wal-Mart.
According to Nassau County District Attorney, "The PWPA is a labor union made up of the Port Washington School District teacher support staff, such as teacher's assistants like Ms. Prudente. She served as the co-president of the PWPA for approximately eight years and she had the responsibility for the financial records for the last three years, while overseeing the union's finances."
To put the amount of money missing into a context, there are approximately 200 members of PWPA. A paraprofessional making $28,000 pays $403 per year. Most, however, do not make this much money. The amount of money that was to be contributed to New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) for the 2003-2004 school year was $17 to $18,000 totally.
According to Mike Margolis, an official at NYSUT (New York State United Teachers) the contributions from the Port local started to fall into 60-90 day arrears. When Ms. Prudente ignored repeated requests to see the organization's books, the other co-president, Karen Novinski, called NYSUT. When NYSUT received no response from Ms. Prudente, it took the case to the Nassau County District Attorney.
Mr. Margolis said that this is the first time in his 20 years with the NYSUT that anything like this has happened. He noted that audits are required every two years of all locals. In this case however, the timing of the audits fell out in such a way that it took a bit longer to discover the theft.
Those who know Ms. Prudente well are shocked, especially family members. "I was blown out of the water," said a cousin, adding "Angie was always there to help out if any one needed anything."
They also question why she needed the money because, financially, she came from a fairly comfortable background and presumably had money left to her in estates. "I'm totally shocked and cannot comprehend why she would do this," said a relative.
The Port Washington School District issued a statement stressing that the monies stolen were not taxpayer dollars. Superintendent of Schools Dr. Geoff Gordon wrote, "Unlike the events in other school districts which have been in the news recently, this matter is drastically different. There are absolutely no allegations that the individual involved has in any misappropriated any district funds. Rather, she has allegedly stolen from her union. Accordingly, based on our own internal investigation, it does not appear that a single penny of district funds has been lost or stolen by this individual.
"Moreover, following our investigation during the summer the individual involved resigned from her employment in the district effective September 7, 2004." Dr. Gordon added that the district intends to continue to cooperate fully with the criminal investigation and will evaluate, what, if any, additional actions may be appropriate in light of the evidence as it is developed.
If convicted, Ms. Prudente faces up to seven years in jail. For now, the missing money will be covered by insurance. But, the insurance company can go after Ms. Prudente's assets to recoup the money if she's proven guilty of the crime.