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The Verde Independent | Cottonwood, Arizona

home : latest news : local May 26, 2016

11/14/2012 12:15:00 PM
Wokasch fraud and theft investigation back on track
Tom and Laura Wokasch
Tom and Laura Wokasch

Jon Hutchinson
Staff Reporter

COTTONWOOD -- It looks like the fraud and theft case against former Mingus teacher and wrestling coach Tom Wokasch and his wife Laura is back on track.

For more than two years, Wokasch and his wife have been investigated for allegedly diverting Mingus Union High School wrestling proceeds.

The two originally were charged with pocketing money between April 4, 2004, and March 9, 2009. Those funds, say police and school officials, were generated by ticket sales from wresting matches and tournaments. State law requires that monies generated by school activities must be processed through school accounts, not privately.

The case hit a roadblock when it was dismissed "without prejudice" Sept. 6 by Judge Bill Lundy in Verde Valley Justice Court. "Without prejudice" means that the case can return to court, typically with additional investigation by law enforcement.

A communication hang-up between the County Attorney's Office and Cottonwood Police slowed that process, but, now new work is moving forward, according to police.

Department spokesman Sgt. Gareth Braxton-Johnson said police have now received the request from the County Attorney's Office and understand what is needed.

Braxton-Johnson said prosecutors believe they have all the analysis of financial data they need, but prosecutors want additional interviews with current or past staff of MUHS.

The original charges read:

1) "On or before April 4, 2004, and March 9, 2009, Thomas John Wokasch (and Laura Jean Wokasch) pursuant to scheme or artifice to defraud knowingly obtained a benefit from Mingus Union High School by means of fraudulent pretenses, representations, promises or material omissions in violation of Arizona Revised Statute 13-2310, Class -2 felony."

2) "On or between April 4, 2004, and March 9, 2009, Thomas John Wokasch (and Laura Jean Wokasch) knowingly controlled property of Mingus Union High School, to wit: cash or checks of a value $4,000 or more to less than $25,000 to deprive Mingus Union High School of such property in violation of Arizona Revised Statute 13-1802, a Class-3 felony."

Braxton-Johnson said the department subpoenaed both of the Wokasches personal accounts. Investigators also looked at lines of credit, which could be separate accounts in addition to the school accounts. He said there were as many as seven accounts scrutinized during the investigation

The bottom line of the alleged misappropriation is $18,796.77, said Braxton-Johnson

By a 4-1 vote in June 2010, the Mingus School Board dismissed Wokasch from his teaching position. He earlier had resigned his position as wrestling coach.

Cottonwood Police said the case was complicated by the fact that the Wokasch family had control over their books and did not follow school policy to record student transactions with the business office.

The charges follow investigations by both the State Auditor General and the intergovernmental investigative arm, the Rocky Mountain Information Network.

On June 14, 2010, the MUHS Governing Board accepted a recommendation by Superintendent Tim Foist to dismiss Wokasch from his teaching position. Wokasch had resigned from his coaching position earlier in the year after leading the Marauders to a fifth-straight state championship. In 20 years, Wokasch's wrestling team had a dual record of 417-70-1.

At the time of his resignation as wrestling coach, just weeks before the revelation of the investigation into his handling of school money, Wokasch told The Verde Independent he was stepping down "to focus on my family more."

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Related Stories:
• Wokasch case dismissed ... for now
• Wokasch, wife make first court appearance
• Former Mingus wrestling coach Tom Wokasch charged with fraud and theft
• 2010 Review: Wokasch dismissal top Mingus story of 2010

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Reader Comments

Posted: Friday, November 16, 2012
Article comment by: Too Bad they should have worked for the Humboldt District

Stealing by school admin and officials is covered up and the people slip away.

Posted: Wednesday, November 14, 2012
Article comment by: Hope more light is shed

Hope more facts come out as this case moves forward.

For instance, did Wokasch use the money for purposes other than the wrestling program, and in particular, did he use it for himself?

If not, if every penny of the funds went back into wrestling, then we really have to look at intent.

If the intent was just a bureaucratic workaround, and 100% of the money still benefited the kids, it's still wrong. But it's much less so than personally profiting from the money.

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