Las Vegas teacher gets probation for stealing pandemic education money

Las Vegas teacher gets probation for stealing pandemic education money

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LAS VEGAS (KLAS) – A teacher admitted that she stole tax dollars set aside to help students. Andrea Fuentes-Soto pleaded guilty to felony theft in Clark County District Court Wednesday. As a result of the plea deal, she received probation.

When Judge Ron Israel asked Fuentes-Soto whether she would like to comment in court, she declined and offered no apology.

Conditions of the plea deal include a suspended sentence of 12 to 60 months while Fuentes-Soto will remain on probation for up to two years. Judge Ron Israel told her that she would need to provide access to all of her electronics to Parole and Probation officers. If she violates probation, she could be sent to prison.

Multiple teachers at Legacy Traditional School’s southwest campus were part of a conspiracy to steal nearly $154,000 in COVID-19 relief funding through a website called DonorsChoose in late 2021, according to the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department.

Fuentes-Soto, along with principal Victoria Welling and teacher Christopher Olmstead were fired from the charter school during the investigation.

Detectives said that a guideline allowed for one teacher to receive a grant up to $954 for a classroom project. Instead, the detectives said multiple teachers created fake names to buy themselves items like televisions, drones, homeware, video games, and more. Welling was accused of approving fraudulent applications.

While the police identified 50 teachers at the school who would be eligible for the funding, they said Welling approved over 169 projects. Police said that they also uncovered a group chat between 6th-grade teachers joking about the alleged theft.

Fuentes-Soto created at least 16 accounts and changed both her first and last name, according to police. Detectives said that they discovered 35 items in her classroom, including kitchenware, a 70-inch television, and an Apple television. An additional 27 items were discovered by police at her home, including iPads, Star Wars, and Power Ranger toys with a value of approximately $3,572.

Authorities also say they seized Fuentes-Soto’s phone and uncovered text message conversations with her husband that included questions such as, “Anything else we need the state to buy?” Along with responses such as, “A new laptop LOL” and requests for multiple items including “Pops Power Rangers” which is in reference to Funko Pops figurines.

Another response via text message included, “I hope we don’t get into trouble.”

Fuentes-Soto’s husband wrote a character letter to the judge in support of his wife and claimed that her lifetime goal was to help children.

“Since we started dating, any time she has lied to someone in her life, she tells me how bad she feels and goes to correct her mistake with the person it affected. Although she tries to lie, it seems to affect her moral being and she always ends up telling the truth a little while later,” Jesus Fuentes-Soto wrote. “Andrea is aware of the wrong she has done and tells me how she regrets her actions and feels horrible about the decision she made.”

Fuentes-Soto agreed to forfeit more than $3600 in cash bail that she had already posted for restitution. If she successfully completes probation, she can withdraw her plea to the felony and plead guilty to conspiracy to commit theft, a gross misdemeanor.

Former principal Victoria Welling also agreed to a plea deal. Welling pleaded guilty to the gross misdemeanor charge of conspiracy to commit theft in March and received credit for time served. Before posting bond, Welling was in custody for just more than a day, according to Las Vegas Metro Police. The department told the 8 News Now Investigators that she was in custody from July 7, 2022, 8:30 a.m. to July 8, 2022, 5 p.m.

After Donors Choose noticed discrepancies and reached out to Welling, she had emailed staff members stating, “I will not approve any more “Donors Choose” that are not real names,” according to detectives.

A jury trial is set for Christopher Olmstead on June 12. He is accused of creating 21 accounts with names such as Chrissy, and Christian to purchase items including 6 Nintendo Switches, an Apple television, and two drones.

Olmstead was previously named Teacher of the Year in 2020.

The 8 News Now Investigators had learned that after they had been fired from Legacy Traditional School, Welling and Olmstead continued to work in education.

Welling had been hired by the Clark County School District to begin working at Advanced Technologies Academy, also know as A-Tech, in July of 2022. When the 8 News Now Investigators reached out that month, a spokesperson for the Clark County School District said that Welling had informed the district that she would no longer work for them within that week.

Olmstead had been employed by the York School District in South Carolina beginning in January of 2022, according to Public Information Officer Tim Cooper. The 8 News Now Investigators reached out to the school district on Thursday to find out whether Olmstead remains employed there.

Olmstead, Fuentes-Soto, and Welling have active Nevada teaching licenses. The 8 News Now Investigators reached out to the Nevada Department of Education.

A spokesperson sent the following statement:

“There are processes in place for disciplinary action and we are following those processes. When the Department pursues a revocation or suspension of a license by the State Board of Education, the licensee receives a statutorily mandated opportunity for due process prior to a hearing by the Board.”

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