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Director of Pittsburgh-area children's learning center accused of stealing over $800K

Director children's learning center accused of stealing over $800K
Director children's learning center accused of stealing over $800K 03:10

CASTLE SHANNON, Pa. (KDKA) — A former director of a Castle Shannon daycare allegedly stole more than $800,000 from her place of employment. 

Now, the Allegheny County District Attorney's Office arrested her on more than 15 charges, the majority felonies.

Sammi Jo Whittaker, 36, of the Beechview neighborhood of Pittsburgh is facing two counts of theft by unlawful taking, six counts of forgery, two counts of access device fraud and one count of receiving stolen property, among other charges.

Emilie Stock calls Whittaker a loyal employee of more than 10 years at Creative Minds Learning Center. She's shocked that her longtime employee breached her trust.

"This was just beyond my wildest fascinations," Stock said. "Sammi really was working hard. She was going to school, she got her administrative degree in business."

Whittaker started working as a teacher at the daycare in 2012. Eventually, Stock promoted her to director/administrator in 2016. According to court records, that's when Whittaker "began to assist Stock with finances" by "invoicing parents, record keeping in QuickBooks, and filing the business' annual taxes."

Then in 2020, Whittaker "took over as primary" for the finances, speaking weekly with Stock. In an interview with investigators, Whittaker said "she basically did everything related to money coming in and out" of the center and "had full access to everything regarding the bank account."

"She was allowed to pay bills and bring money in from the parents, and go to the bank and deposit it," Stock said. "She was not authorized to sign checks. Her name's not on the bank accounts."

In January of this year, Stock said she came to the realization that Whittaker was hiding something.

"She just kept avoiding me and not supplying the receipts, so I said, 'Well, if you can't supply me with receipts, I'm going to assume you stole everything,'" Stock said.

The complaint explains investigators found Whittaker used the center's credit/debit card to make 2,450 payments totaling more than $539,000, and the center's checking account to make more than 300 payments, some with forged signatures, totaling nearly $250,000. All of the expenditures were for personal benefits at places like Amazon, a veterinary clinic, Dick's Sporting Goods and 7-Eleven. She allegedly funneled funds to personal accounts via PayPal.

Emily Goff of Castle Shannon said her son went to the daycare back in 2017.

"That takes a special kind of deviousness in my mind to steal from a place that is taking care of children," Goff said.

She feels for the families still going there.

"What kind of oversight is there going to be going forward for those parents that are taking their children there?" Goff said.

The matter has taken its toll on Stock, her employees and clients.

"(Employees) lost their benefits because I couldn't pay for them anymore. Families were in a position where we had to close on Fridays," Stock said.

Now, she wants to ensure families their priority is still caring for their kids.

"It's always been about what can we do for the kids, what can do for our families, and that will just stay our focus," Stock said.

Currently, Stock is handling the finances on her own.

According to the criminal complaint, after Stock fired her in March, Whittaker continued to forge signatures on checks in June.

Whittaker was released on her own recognizance to appear back in court on Oct. 17.

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