PTSO embezzlement case sent to grand jury

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The case against an Ashburn woman accused of embezzling more than $21,000 from the Rock Ridge High School PTSO advanced this week when a district court judge found sufficient evidence to commit her to a grand jury.

Sophia E. Brown served as Treasurer of the Parent-Teacher-Student Volunteer Group for a period in 2019 and 2020 when numerous cash withdrawals were made to the organization’s bank account.

During the January 19 preliminary hearing, a former OPTS president and the treasurer who succeeded Brown testified about the organization’s spending practices and payment policies. The PTSO organizes fundraisers to provide teacher support and special programs, such as graduation parties. Purchases, payments, disbursements and reimbursements are made by checks signed by two agents. The organization had a debit card used primarily for online purchases.

After Brown stepped down as treasurer in 2020, his successor testified that Brown initially resisted giving him access to the bank account. After the account was transferred, she found numerous ATM withdrawals for amounts ranging from $100 to $600. There are also charges for the usual items, including two payments to a car rental company. Brown wrote a check to the PTSO for five transactions, including one for car rentals, describing them as accidental charges, according to testimony.

Brown’s attorney, Tabatha Blake, said there was little evidence to show Brown was responsible for the charges in question or that the charges were unauthorized. Other members of the organization may have access to the debit card number, she said.

Before the start of the preliminary hearing, county prosecutors dropped one of three charges against Brown, alleging credit card fraud.

After the testimony, Judge Matthew P. Snow dismissed another charge, finding that prosecutors had failed to provide evidence to support an allegation of carrying out illegal financial transactions, which had been charged under a law on the money laundering.

He did, however, find probable cause to send the embezzlement charges to the grand jury for indictment. This review is scheduled for February 14, with the case then to be sent to the Circuit Court for trial.

Brown was arrested on October 14 and released on $5,000 bond.

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