Ex-school staffer agrees to plea deal

The former Northside Middle School administrative assistant accused of taking thousands of dollars from the school’s extracurricular account has admitted her guilt by agreeing to accept a plea agreement.

However, Bartholomew Circuit Judge Stephen Heimann has not yet accepted the proposed deal regarding Michelle R. Rooks, 37, 208 S. County Road 250E.

The agreement, written and signed by deputy county prosecutor Kathleen Burns in late March, was signed Monday by Rooks and her attorney, Scott Andrews.

Under the terms of the plea agreement:

Rooks agrees to plead guilty to theft as a Level 6 felony, punishable by six months to two-and-a-half years imprisonment and up to a $10,000 fine.

The state agrees to refrain from filing any additional charges in the case.

Rooks agrees to make full restitution.

Rooks agrees to cooperate in the preparation of the records and restitution check.

The judge agrees the felony conviction could be modified to a Class A misdemeanor if Rooks successfully completes all terms of her sentencing or probation.

Rooks only spoke briefly to answer direct questions Monday from Heimann, who took the matter under advisement, court officials said.

On the night of Jan. 6, police went to Rooks’ home, seized money inside her residence and placed her under arrest.

Later that week, Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. superintendent John Quick said he was unsure how much Rooks might have taken from the extracurricular accounts during a six-year period.

An audit by the Indiana State Board of Accounts that was requested in January has still not been completed, board spokesman Ryan Preston said Tuesday.

After the accounting is completed, the office of Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller may be petitioned to freeze Rooks’ assets until restitution is paid, Preston said.

“(Rooks) indicated she had stolen over a thousand dollars and that it was ‘probably’ tens of thousands,” Columbus Police Department Detective Michael Beerwart wrote in a court affidavit.

Administrative assistants are authorized to collect cash for school functions such as athletics events, fundraisers and field trips. But Rooks said she would deposit only a portion of the cash and keep the remainder for herself, Beerwart wrote.

Rooks, who was paid an hourly rate of $13.14, told the detective she used the cash for household expenses, according to the affidavit.

School officials became suspicious when they began receiving past-due notices for unpaid bills. One was in the amount of $21,000 for a Washington, D.C., trip that Northside students took in 2014.

Administrative assistants are bonded for $50,000, meaning there is an insurance policy to cover missing funds up to that amount if the money is lost or stolen, Quick said.

What's next?

Bartholomew Circuit Judge Stephen Heimann could announce at any time whether he will accept a proposed plea agreement regarding Michelle Rooks.

The former administrative assistant is accused of taking money from an extracurricular account at Northside Middle School over a six-year period.  

A tentative sentencing hearing for Rooks has been scheduled for May 18 at 3:45 p.m. May 18.

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Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.