Former School Principal Pleads Guilty to Embezzling $175,000 from Fund for Student Activities and Services

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FILE PHOTO: Signage is seen at the United States Department of Justice headquarters in Washington, D.C.

            WASHINGTON – A former school principal pleaded guilty today to stealing at least $175,000 from an association that raises funds from parent contributions and fundraisers to provide school-related services and activities to students, admitting that she used the money for personal purposes, including to qualify for a home mortgage loan.

            The announcement was made by U.S. Attorney Matthew M. Graves, Matthew R. Stohler, Special Agent in Charge, Washington Field Office, U.S. Secret Service, and Robert J. Contee III, Chief of the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD).

            Bridget Coates, 48, of Falls Church, Va., was the principal of St. Thomas More Catholic School in Southeast Washington at the time her criminal activity began, in 2012, until she resigned in 2018. She pleaded guilty in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to a charge of wire fraud. The charge carries a statutory maximum of 20 years in prison and potential financial penalties. Under the Court’s sentencing guidelines, Coates faces a likely range of 27 to 33 months in prison and a potential fine of up to $100,000. She also has agreed to pay $175,000 in restitution and an identical amount in a forfeiture money judgment.

            The Honorable Dabney L. Friedrich scheduled sentencing for June 15, 2022.

            According to court documents, from June 2012 through December 2017, Coates devised a scheme to steal from the school’s Home School Association, an organization affiliated with the school that supported student services and activities. As the school principal, Coates had access to the Home School Association’s checks and could use her discretion to pay expenditures for only school-related purposes. Coates, however, engaged in a pattern of purchasing personal goods and services with the funds. Over the time period, she wrote approximately 66 unauthorized checks and deposited at least $175,000 into her personal bank account. Among other things, she used the funds to help her qualify for a home-mortgage loan.

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            In announcing the plea, U.S. Attorney Graves, Special Agent in Charge Stohler and Chief Contee commended the work of those who investigated the case from the Secret Service and the Metropolitan Police Department. They also expressed appreciation for the efforts of those who handled the case for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, including Paralegal Specialist Chad Byron, and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jeffrey Nestler and Marco Crocetti, who investigated and prosecuted the matter.