A Michigan teacher who blew $31,000 of school money on penny slots at the MGM Grand Detroit is facing a maximum ten years’ imprisonment.
Lydia Christine Johnson, 29, was, until very recently, a math and Spanish teacher at Dakota High School in Macomb Township, Detroit. But she was arraigned Thursday morning on one count of embezzlement from a non-profit organization.
In her role as the coordinator of student activity, Johnson was responsible for collecting all funds related to school events, including the homecoming dance and a student and parent camping trip to Canada.
But as Macomb Sheriff Anthony Wickersham put it “many of these students will now remember their senior homecoming for all the wrong reasons.”
The 2016 dance was expected to bring in $30,000, but Johnson deposited just $11,000 into the account. Meanwhile, the popular camping trip should have yielded $13,000, but only $500 was returned to the school.
$90,000 Up in Smoke
The Canadian camp repeatedly attempted to collect their expected fees, but with no joy, and so it alerted the school. After questioning Johnson and finding her evasive, school officials called in the Macomb County Sheriff’s Department. The teacher was placed on administrative leave on May 3, 2017.
According to prosecutors, a search of Johnson’s classroom turned up cash deposit envelopes for the senior homecoming that were torn open but empty, along with MGM Grand casino receipts. MGM Grand records showed that Johnson spent over $90,000 at the casino in 2016.
“This teacher held a position of trust within the high school,” the prosecutor said. “She repaid that trust by feeding student funds into a slot machine. So often these embezzlements stem from one of two things: drug or gambling addiction.
“In this case, it was gambling,” he clarified.
In an official statement, Chippewa Valley Schools Superintendent Ron Roberts said: “We have committed our full support and cooperation to the Sheriff’s Department and the Macomb County Prosecutor’s Office in this investigation. We will do whatever it takes to ensure that our board policies are followed and that our employees are acting in the best interest of our school community.”
“It’s very important to me to let the community know this (incident) is totally unexpected,” he later told News-Herald. “We take this very seriously. We are role models and we expect exemplary behavior from our employees. When this happens, it hurts. It’s not the way it’s supposed to be.”
Johnson is free on a $10,000 personal bond which was set at her Thursday arraignment. She is due back in court on October 5.