Joanne Pascarelli and Marie Wilson are accused of stealing nearly half a million dollars from school cafeterias in Connecticut. Police say the two women, who are sisters, allegedly took small amounts on a regular basis between 2012 and 2017.
Police believe the suspects could have been taking money for more than 15 years. But the investigation was limited to within the past five years. (Under Connecticut law, non-violent felonies have a statute of limitations of five years).
Pascarelli and Wilson turned themselves in to New Canaan Police but both were later released on $50,00 bond. They’re both due back in court next week but on separate days.
Here’s what you need to know.
1. Both Women Were Charged with Larceny & Accused of Taking Money From Cafeteria Cash Registers
Joanne Pascarelli, 61, and Marie Wilson, 67, face the following charges: larceny and defrauding a public community. Police have accused them of stealing $478,588 between 2012 and 2017.
The New Canaan News obtained access to financial records from the Saxe Middle School cafeteria, beginning with records from 2013. They reveal stark differences in the amount of money deposited over the years. Pascarelli was the one employed at Saxe Middle School.
The records show that between 2013 and 2016, average daily deposits were between $18 and $33. In the summer of 2016, the district began using new software to document and monitor deposits. After that, daily deposits more than tripled to about $93 per day. In 2018, after Pascarelli resigned, average deposits increased to about $183 per day. Pascarelli has denied taking any money.
Marie Wilson was employed in the cafeteria at New Canaan High School. She admitted to police that she gave $100 per day to her boss at the cafeteria. But Wilson insists she never kept any of that money for herself.
2. Police Investigated the Alleged Thefts for Several Months and Interviewed Several of Pascarelli & Wilson’s Coworkers Before Bringing Charges
The New Canaan school district handed the investigation over to police on December 21, 2017. The official complaint stated that the district had discovered discrepancies in the handling of cash deposits at the two cafeterias.
Pascarelli and Wilson both resigned around the same time, at the beginning of the police investigation. They had both already been on administrative leave.
The New Canaan Advertiser published a statement from Police Chief Leon Krolikowski, in which he outlined the course of the investigation. He explained that detectives monitored both cafeterias for several months. The statement explains:
“The investigation involved 1) conducting approximately twenty interviews; 2) examining financial records and other evidence; 3) consulting with the Stamford state’s attorney; 4) applying for two arrest warrants.
At the conclusion of the investigation, the investigation determined that: (a) There were two suspects responsible for the thefts, Joanne Pascarelli (formerly employed at Saxe Middle School cafeteria), and her sister Marie Wilson (previously employed at New Canaan High School cafeteria).”
Coworkers reportedly told police that they witnessed Pascarelli and Wilson taking large bills from the cash registers at the respective cafeterias.
3. School Superintendent: The District Noticed Wide Gaps in the Cafeteria Deposits & Reported the Discrepancies to Police
The New Canaan school district learned of the arrests on August 13. The superintendent, Bryan D. Luizzi, commented on the investigation in an open letter on the district’s website. He did not mention Pascarelli or Wilson by name, instead referring to them only as “two former food service employees.” He wrote that he and his staff “are deeply upset by this alleged violation of our trust and the trust of the entire community.”
Luizzi explained that during the time of the alleged crimes, the school had been undergoing major changes in how it monitors its finances. It was because of these changes that the district noticed “irregularities related to the handling of cash at the Saxe Middle School Cafeteria and the New Canaan High School Cafeteria.”
Luizzi explained that the investigation was then turned over to police, and that the school “has fully cooperated throughout the process.” He also stressed that the missing funds from the cafeteria would not have negatively impacted students. He explained that the cafeteria fund is “separate and apart from the district’s operating budget.”
4. The Sisters Deny the Charges & Wilson Plans to Plead Not Guilty
Joanne Pascarelli has denied to police in interviews that she ever took any money. Her attorney has not made any public comments about the investigation or the charges.
The lawyer for Marie Wilson, however, did release a statement to the media. Attorney Mark Sherman has said that Wilson will plead not guilty to the charges. His statement reads:
“There is much more to this story. Marie is innocent and did not personally divert a single nickel of town money for personal gain. She is not going to be scapegoated for this missing money.”
Wilson’s next court date is scheduled for August 21. Pascarelli will face a judge on August 24.
5. Pascarelli & Wilson Are Facing First Degree Felony Charges Because of the Amount of Money Reportedly Stolen
Under Connecticut law, theft is classified as either a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the amount of money reportedly stolen. A person is charged with first-degree larceny, which is a Class B felony, if the theft involves property valued at more than $20,000. Pascarelli and Wilson are accused of stealing $478,588.
The following actions fall under the definition of larceny in Connecticut:
• Taking property by false pretenses or false promise
• Taking property that has been lost or delivered by mistake
• Theft of services
• Receiving stolen property
• Conversion of a motor vehicle
• Taking property through fraudulent use of an ATM
• Theft of utility service
• Theft of motor fuel
If convicted, the punishment for a Class B felony includes a fine of up to $15,000. Possible prison time is one to 20 years.