More scenarios develop in trial

Published 10:52 pm Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Testimony continued Wednesday in the trial of Janet Ellison, who is charged with stealing more than $56,000 while working at John T. Morgan Academy as the bookeeper.

Part of Wednesday’s testimony surrounded who had access to where the school kept money that was taken in before being taken to the bank to be deposited. It also centered on who had keys, who made copies of the school’s keys, and how many keys were available to an area where money collected by school personnel was kept and accounting materials were routinely stored.

Frank Marsh, longtime janitor at Morgan Academy, testified it was one of his responsibilities to have keys made or copied for all areas of the school. Access to the area where money was kept has been one of the key points Ellison’s attorney has cited in her defense, claiming she was not the only person to have access to the area and that there were plenty of people who had keys.

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According to testimony, Marsh has been the janitor for the last 21 years and for those years his janitorial duties included making copies of keys for any lock in the school that was broken. Marsh confirmed he had also gotten keys made for the filing cabinet in which money at the school was stored and had access to other drawers and filing cabinets.

“Did you come there to work or did you come there to rummage,” Barrown Lankster, who is helping prosecute the case, asked Marsh about how he had access to all kinds of drawers.

“I came to work. I didn’t have time to rummage,” Marsh replied.

Marsh’s job also gave him access to Ellison’s office where tuition money and other deposits were kept in a locked filing cabinet — something Ellison’s defense attorney said takes blame off of Ellison but does not necessarily incriminate Marsh.

Lankster asked Marsh if he had ever taken a dollar from Morgan Academy to which Marsh replied “not that I know of.”

“Well, there was more than $56,000 taken. You would know if you took that, right,” Lankster asked. “Well anybody would know if they took that,” Marsh said.

Ellison’s defense attorneys, P. Vaughn Russell and Fred McCormick, continued discussing scenarios and suggesting people who could have had access to the missing money.

Russell put one of Morgan’s faculty members on the stand who had a misdemeanor theft charge 30 years ago in the amount $20. Russell then brought in other faculty members who testified against the staff member and they described several instances when the staff member was found in vacated rooms of the school — though nothing from these rooms was reported missing.

Morgan Academy board chairman Ira Wagoner, who is also an accountant, led an investigation of Morgan’s books that led to the discovery of the missing money. He testified Wednesday refuting Russell’s claim that Ellison was the “fall person” in the missing money investigation and that she was one of only two bonded school employees – the other being former headmaster Randy Skipper.

“Every employee of the school was under the bonding of insurance, even volunteers of the school were under our policy,” Wagoner testified.

Wagoner said his investigation was thorough and he only sought an explanation for the missing money.

“I did not find any errors or any unusual transactions in the books,” Wagoner said. “I was looking for errors to see if I could find out what the discrepancy was.”

He explained he went through all kinds of scenarios of how the money could have been misplaced in his investigation.

He looked into money being deposited various places but “could not find an accounting reason for the missing money.”

McCormick also questioned Wagoner about whether he had discovered any direct evidence supporting the claim Ellison took the money.

“You don’t have any knowledge that Mrs. Ellison took a dime or more,” McCormick asked.

“No, not any visual evidence that I have seen,” Wagoner replied.

Wednesday’s testimony also detailed how Ellison paid in cash for money orders purchased at a grocery store near the school that were then used to make payments on credit cards to retail stores Anne Taylor, Hobby Lobby, and Victoria’s Secret, among others.

Additional testimony from Wagoner and another faculty member was also presented showing Ellison had purchased a cruise and threw a party with a band and catering service all paid for with cash.

Ellison is expected to take the stand when the trial resumes Thursday.