A prominent middle school principal, her son, and her former finance aide have all been charged in an alleged embezzlement scheme that police say could go back three years and potentially bilked the school system out of more than $100,000.
Fairfax County Police say that after a joint investigation by the department’s Financial Crimes Unit and the Fairfax County Public School human resource department, Poe Middle School Principal Sonya Swansbrough, 46, of Woodbridge and Bethany Speed, 38, of Burke, an administrative employee at J.E.B. Stuart High School, have both been charged with embezzlement and money laundering.
Swansbrough’s son, Brenton Rusnak, 20, of Radford, has been charged with receiving stolen property in the form of cash.
Police began an investigation after being contacted by FCPS in September.
According to police, Rusnak had been allegedly been receiving paychecks from FCPS for clerical work--potentially as far back as May, 2010--but in fact had not been a FCPS employee for more than four years. “Brenton Rusnak was hired in July 2009 for a temporary hourly position,” said FCPS spokesman John Torre. Police say that because Rusnak had been in the FCPS system as an employee at one time, the potential for the fraud was available.
“This is still an active investigation but Rusnak was reportedly paid for work allegedly not completed or done,” said police spokesperson Lucy Caldwell. “The allegations involved falsifying timesheets for personal financial gain.”
Caldwell said Rusnak was allegedly paid up to $100,000 with school budget funds for up to three years, and potentially also with some federal grant money. “Exact funding is still being accounted for,” she said. “Police are working with FCPS grant accountants. An audit is being conducted.”
According to Torre, Swansbrough and Speed worked together at Poe Middle School from April 2011 until June 2013. During that time, Speed worked as a financial technician and was Swansbrough’s finance aide. Speed took a position at J.E.B. Stuart High School in June.
Fairfax County School Board members were shocked to hear of the allegations.
“So far, we haven’t heard anything more than what has been released by the police. We will do what we can to support their investigation,” said School Board member Megan McLaughlin (Braddock District).
Swansbrough has been with FCPS since 1990, starting as an art teacher at Glasgow Middle School, then became an assistant principal at Poe in February 2003. She was named principal in July 2006.
Speed has been with the Fairfax school system since 2001. She is currently an administrative assistant at Stuart.
“Both have been suspended without pay,” said Torre.
Swansbrough and Speed are both scheduled for arraignment tomorrow morning, Nov. 14, in Fairfax County District Court. They are also both scheduled for a preliminary hearing on Feb. 4, 2014. No attorney information is yet available for either individual in court records. No Fairfax County court information is available for Rusnak.