As a teacher to special-needs students, Ava Marlene Shaw had a helping hand. But as president of the San Gabriel Teachers Association she seemed a lot more interested in helping herself. On March 22, police arrested Shaw, 50, for embezzling about $83,000 in union funds. Investigators say that Shaw, who no longer works for the school district and who had been teaching at a private school at the time of her arrest, used union checks and credit cards to pay for personal expenses. Free on bail, Shaw is scheduled for arraignment in May. If convicted, she faces anywhere from 28 months to four years in prison.
Police for about a year had been investigating irregularities in a routine internal audit the association initiated in October 2004, the month current SGTA President Katherine Hill was elected. At the request of the association, the San Gabriel school district participated in the investigation, and also hired a certified fraud investigator. The by-laws of the 130-member union, an affiliate of the National Education Association, since have been tightened; two signatures, that of the treasurer and the vice president, are now required to access funds. Through its insurance coverage, the union has recovered $67,000 of the money that Shaw took.
This isn’t the first time in recent memory that the school district has had a theft problem. In 2004, an administrator, Linda Tannenbaum, was arrested for allegedly embezzling more than $90,000 from student activity accounts. “I feel very strongly about our profession and that we provide role models,” said SGTA’s Hill. “I don’t think this reflects (well) on the teachers.”