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Durango woman pleads guilty to embezzling nearly $15,000 from school PTO

Yolanda Griswold used money for trips and personal goods, according to police
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A Durango woman who embezzled nearly $15,000 from a Park Elementary School Parent Teacher Organization has been sentenced to three years probation.

As part of her probation, Yolanda Griswold, 43, must pay $14,956 in restitution, complete 200 hours of community service, and write a letter of apology to the student body and the school administration at Park Elementary, according to a plea agreement she signed with the 6th Judicial District Attorney’s Office.

She pleaded guilty June 9 to felony theft and was sentenced Aug. 9 by 6th Judicial District Judge Suzanne Carlson. She received a deferred sentence, meaning the felony conviction will be removed from her record if she successfully completes the terms of her probation.

According to the Durango Police Department, Griswold served as treasurer of the PTO, which raises money through donations and fundraisers. She was the only one with access to the PTO account debit cards, said Durango police Cmdr. Deck Shaline.

The thefts occurred between Aug. 1, 2018, and July 1, 2022, according to the plea agreement.

Griswold used the debit cards to fund trips and individual expenses, including groceries and a veterinarian visit for her dog, Shaline said. An investigator wrote: “I learned there were hundreds of transactions that appear suspicious and for personal gain.”

District Attorney Christian Champagne said Griswold used the money for personal purchases, such as gas, hotel rooms and household goods. She told investigators she was struggling financially during the COVID-19 pandemic and used the PTO account with the intent to pay it back immediately.

“This developed into a habit until she was caught,” Champagne wrote in an email to The Durango Herald.

She was caught in September 2022 when school officials viewed some of the PTO transactions and became suspicious, Shaline said.

Durango police investigated the case for three months, Shaline said. He described Griswold as being “very” cooperative in resolving the case.

“She came across as very remorseful at sentencing and offered what appeared to be very sincere apologies to the community,” Champagne told the Herald.

Griswold declined to comment to the Herald.

Durango School District 9-R said the thefts did not impact the school budget, because the PTO funds are managed separately from the school and school district budgets.

The thefts amounted to more than half of the PTO funds, which had a balance of $11,689, according to a letter sent March 15 notifying parents of the thefts.

The lack of money prevented the PTO from providing “mini-grants” for teachers and limited purchases for some field trips and other school events, according to the letter. However, it was not expected to impact events planned for the remainder of 2023.

“New fundraising efforts put in place by the current PTO members, and the generous support of the community, will likely allow for the mini-grant program to be reinstated in the 2023-2024 school year,” the letter reads.

Since the thefts happened, all new members will now oversee the PTO, which has a new process for tracking and managing funds, including sharing financial reports at every meeting, said 9-R spokeswoman Karla Sluis.

“It’s very unfortunate that somebody like that would, in a position of trust and power, would make decisions like that,” she said.

According to a letter sent home to Park Elementary community members, parents were asked not to share the news with other community members. The paragraph requesting discretion was not included in a version of the letter the school district shared Monday with the Herald.

“This is sensitive news in a small community,” the original letter reads. “We ask that the information not be shared with other community members at this time.”

It is not the first time Griswold has been in trouble with the law. In 2016, she was sentenced to 90 days in jail after pleading guilty to vehicular homicide.

The crash occurred Dec. 11, 2015, just north of Bondad Hill on U.S. Highway 550. According to court testimony and statements from law enforcement, Griswold was driving 88 mph when she became distracted and ran into the back of another vehicle, which resulted in a four-vehicle crash.

Jennifer Powers, 35, died in the crash.


An earlier version of this story said a Spanish version of a letter sent home to Park Elementary parents requested them not to share the news of an embezzlement case with other community members. The school district said that information was also included in an English-language version. But that paragraph had been removed from the English version by the time the letter was shared Monday with the Herald.

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