Police Audit Says Another $19,000 in Fees Was Lost from School's Accounts

By CHRIS BURRELL

Oak Bluffs police now believe that the regional high school culinary arts teacher charged with stealing $11,000 worth of school-owned equipment and food supplies may have also pocketed an additional $19,000 in payments that were supposed to go into a student activity account.

Police went to Edgartown District Court yesterday seeking two new charges against Peter J. Koines: one count of larceny over $250 and a second count of larceny by false pretenses.

At a meeting yesterday in Tisbury with Vineyard schools superintendent Dr. Kriner Cash, Mr. Koines formally resigned the teaching post he has held since 1989, but the superintendent told the Gazette he won't accept the resignation until there's an offer on the table for restitution.

"I am considering at this time whether to accept the resignation. I will be guided in those deliberations by my concern that the (Martha's Vineyard Regional High School) district be adequately compensated by way of restitution," Mr. Cash said in a written statement issued yesterday. "If a fair and equitable restitution will be an element of any resolution of the pending criminal matter involving Mr. Koines, then I am likely to accept his resignation."

Mr. Cash said the culinary program will be staffed in time for the first school day in two weeks.

The restitution tally appears to be climbing every time a police officer or an accountant digs deeper into the high school ledgers.

Oak Bluffs police officer George Fisher, who has led the investigation into Mr. Koines since June, believes that for the last eight years Mr. Koines has cashed more than $19,000 in checks from the Martha's Vineyard Rod & Gun Club - payment for catch-and-release tournament breakfasts prepared by the high school culinary students every June.

Proceeds from the event were supposed to be deposited into a student activity to help offset the cost of the students' trip to Europe.

"The checks were being made to the instructor personally," said Officer Fisher. "And it appears they were not deposited back to the high school."

A partial audit of the culinary arts department, obtained by the Gazette yesterday from the Oak Bluffs police, shows that the rod and gun club paid Mr. Koines approximately $2,500 a year for the breakfast.

Auditor Chris Rogers of Burlington stated in his Aug. 6 letter to Mr. Cash that after interviewing rod and gun club president Robert DeLisle, he learned that the checks were written directly to Mr. Koines, not the high school.

"The original check for the fiscal year 2003 event was issued payable to Martha's Vineyard Culinary Arts/Peter Koines," stated the auditor in his letter. "Mr. Koines requested that the check be re-issued directly to him, i.e. Peter Koines. Mr. DeLisle inquired as to the reason the check should be made payable directly to him. Mr. Koines' response was that it takes too long for him to get paid through Margaret (Serpa), the district's accountant."

After checking the deposits into the high school student activity account for the last two years, Mr. Rogers found no deposits related to the rod and gun club breakfasts.

"Additionally, and based on a conversation with the principal, the culinary arts students' final exam was the catering of the 2003 MVRGC (Martha's Vineyard Rod & Gun Club) event," Mr. Rogers said in his audit.

According to a letter from Mr. DeLisle to Oak Bluffs police, the annual breakfast attracts between 275 and 300 people, who are charged $8.50 each.

"The club felt the price was a bit high, but I believed that this money raised helped pay for the culinary arts students' annual trip to Europe. We also had concerns that our check was to be made out to Mr. Koines . . . [those] new to the board were told that this was the procedure that had always been followed," Mr. DeLisle wrote in his letter dated Aug. 11.

Officer Fisher said he is hoping other community groups on the Island which used the culinary arts students to cater events will contact Oak Bluffs police.

"Our fear is that the same thing happened with other events," said Officer Fisher.

Mr. Koines was arrested early last month and charged with stealing $7,000 worth of school-owned kitchen equipment and diverting $4,000 in school funds to purchase pie shells and frozen fruit for his own pie business.

In addition to heading up the culinary department at the high school, Mr. Koines sells pies at the Farmer's Market in West Tisbury, which runs from early summer to early fall.

When police searched Mr. Koines' house and outbuilding in Oak Bluffs in July, they found a 20-quart Hobart commercial mixer, a stainless steel, four-door refrigerator and stainless steel tables - items later identified as belonging to the regional high school.

Police, along with high school principal Peg Regan, also believed that Mr. Koines was routinely using the high school culinary kitchen for his own business.

The audit received by police and school officials last week delved into the invoices for pie-fixings and corroborated police suspicions that the supplies ordered through and paid by the school were not destined for school purposes.

In the period between April and May for the last three years, pie baking supplies purchased totaled approximately $8,000.

The auditor also questioned the expense account for the culinary trip to Italy last March. "On February 19, 2003, Mr. Koines was provided with $8,000 in traveler's checks from the culinary travel fund to be used for expenses related to the culinary arts trip to Italy," wrote Mr. Rogers.

He was supposed to file receipts from the trip with Ms. Serpa. "As of the date of this letter, no supporting documentation has been provided," the auditor said in his letter.

School officials have differed over how to handle the fall-out from the trouble at the regional high school.

Mrs. Regan called for the dismissal of Mr. Koines back in June, almost three weeks after a member of the culinary accreditation team told her about equipment missing from the department.

The principal also demoted vocational director Kevin Carr in the wake of criminal charges against Mr. Koines, but Mr. Cash decided not to pursue that action against the administrator in charge of vocational finances and supplies.