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 evidence sufficient to refer it to a grand jury.
Sophia E. Brown was treasurer of the volunteer parent-teacher-student group during a period in 2019 and 2020 when numerous cash withdraws were made from the organization’s bank account.
During the Jan. 19 preliminary hearing, a former PTSO president and the treasurer who succeeded Brown testified about the organization’s spending practices and payment policies. The PTSO holds fundraisers to provide support to teachers and special programs, such graduation night parties. Purchases, payments, disbursements, and reimbursements are made by checks signed by two officers. The organization had a debit card used primarily for online purchases.
After Brown stepped down from the treasurer’s post in 2020, her successor testified that Brown initially resisted providing her access to the bank account. After the account was transferred, she found numerous ATM withdraws for cash in amounts ranging from $100 to $600. There also charges for usual items, including two payments to a car rental company. Brown wrote a check to the PTSO for five transactions, including one of the car rentals, describing them as accidental charges, according to the testimony.
Brown’s attorney Tabatha Blake said there was little evidence to show that Brown was responsible for the questioned charges or that the charges were not authorized. 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 the three charges against Brown, for credit card fraud.
After the testimony, Judge Matthew P. Snow dismissed another charge, finding prosecutors had not provided evidence to substantiate an allegation of conducting unlawful financial transactions, which had been charged under a money laundering statue.
He did, however, find probable cause to send the charges of embezzlement to the grand jury for indictment. That review is set for Feb. 14, with the case then expected to move to Circuit Court for adjudication.
Brown was arrested Oct. 14 and was freed on a $5,000 bond.