The former president and treasurer of an Indio elementary school PTA pleaded not guilty today to charges stemming from the alleged embezzlement of more than $22,000 from the association.
Danny Cervantes, 34, of Indio, is charged with grand theft for allegedly taking $22,043 over the course of 10 months via a debit card issued solely to him as the head of the Herbert Hoover Elementary School PTA.
Cervantes was appointed the PTA’s president and treasurer in October 2016 due to his background as an accountant, according to an arrest warrant declaration that says his responsibilities included “balancing the books, issuing checks/payments, purchasing and making deposits.”
Cervantes made withdrawals from the account and “vehemently avoided” providing any bank statements or updates on the association’s finances to other PTA members, the declaration alleges.
The embezzlement allegedly began just after he was appointed. Indio police began an investigation last fall when a Hoover Elementary teacher came forward to report she found copies of the bank statements, which allegedly showed `excessive ATM/Teller activity,” which was unusual because the PTA “rarely dealt with cash and mostly wrote checks or used the debit card to pay for items.”
She also told police that “because of her comfort and longstanding friendship with Danny, (she) never suspected any wrongdoing,” the declaration states. Police obtained video and photographic evidence of Cervantes allegedly making transactions at various ATMs throughout the area.
When interviewed by Indio detectives, he allegedly denied making the transactions and said other people had access to the debit card. But once confronted with photos of his ATM withdrawals, he allegedly admitted taking the money and wrote an apology letter to the school stating he would pay back the missing funds, according to police.
Prosecutors charged him with a single felony grand theft count in late February. Cervantes is slated to return to court April 17 for a felony settlement conference.