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Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Schools to strengthen oversight

Teachers' union silent on spreading corruption probe
Legislature to grant schools extra make-up funds

Two powerful Democrat state senators arrested on suspicion of embezzling more than $300,000 of school funds had racked up hundreds of thousands of dollars in gambling debts at local casinos, authorities said.

Scappoose detectives discovered "evidence of a destructive gambling habit" in the bank records of Sen. Betsy Johnson (D-Scappoose) and Sen. Ginny Burdick (D-Portland) said Sgt. Mark Clark, a police spokesman.

Johnson, 51, was arrested Friday after a search warrant turned up documents showing evidence of the crime, police said. She was booked on suspicion of felony embezzlement and released on the recognizance of Tom Chamberlain, president of the Oregon AFL-CIO. Burdick, 62, was arrested yesterday in Portland and released on the recognizance of SEIU Local 503 Executive Director Leslie Frane.

Police investigators who examined district bank accounts say that Johnson had embezzled about $306,000 since November 2005. Johnson's suspected embezzlement surfaced after Scappoose Unified School District officials discovered that she had deposited an $18,000 check May 25 written from the school's trust account into the checking account of the estrogen-rich Gard & Gerber public relations and damage-control firm, formerly led by Sen. Burdick, said a police spokeswoman.

Johnson and Burdick are accused of an elaborate scheme that included forging the names of officials authorized to sign checks and then depositing the money into various bank accounts.

Tuscon Citizen/AP, June 1

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