Charles “Chip” Locke said his 12-year-old son with autism would suffer without his support before being sentenced to six months in jail Thursday for stealing more than $15,000 from the Greenfield Elementary School Home/School Association as the organization’s treasurer.
“I understand that part of my sentence is incarceration, and I’m accepting that punishment,” said Locke, who also served as president of the Saratoga Springs school board when he stole the funds, “but it breaks my heart to see an organization that promotes the wellness of children advise the District Attorney’s Office that they do not support allowing me to serve my time on weekends.”
Locke, who was speaking to Judge Jeffrey Wait in Saratoga County Court, also admonished the organization’s board members for not letting him pay them back before they reported the theft. And he said “those same people” have harassed and bullied his wife, son and 16-year-old daughter, “making their day-to-day lives difficult to bear.”
Wait appeared taken aback by Locke’s plea for sympathy and accusations aimed at the volunteer group that raises funds so that children can go on field trips and other activities. Locke stole repeatedly from the group between Sept. 13, 2014 and Sept. 22, 2015. He pleaded guilty to third-degree grand larceny, a felony, on April 12.
“As far as statements by defendants go, I have to say, that was unusual,” Wait said, before pausing to collect his thoughts. “I’m not gonna comment any further on that.”
Locke’s attorney, Assistant Public Defender Matthew Maiello, noted a recording of a meeting with the group in which Locke was “willing to make them whole.” It didn’t sway the judge.
As part of Locke’s sentence, he will have to pay $15,070.17 in restitution, plus a $753.54 surcharge, over the course of his five-year probation.
“Well, he’s gonna have an opportunity to make the organization whole again, and I’m having trouble appreciating either his statement that’s been made or that position as well,” the judge said. “When a crime is committed, it’s not up to the victim to decide whether or not they’re going to accept restitution so that the person who has committed that crime can somehow avoid that by some agreement with the victim. That’s not appropriate, and that’s not how the system works.”
Wait granted Locke’s request to begin his jail sentence at 5 p.m. on July 5, which will allow him to care for his son through the end of the school year on June 24.
“Because of these circumstances with his family and his child, I think it’s appropriate,” he said.
The judge noted that the time between the sentencing and Locke’s incarceration was significant, however, and warned him not to be late when he turns himself in.
“Show up early, OK? For your own benefit.”
Before the sentencing, Samantha Jacksland, the home/school association’s president, said Locke’s theft came amid three years of fundraising for a new playground for the school and hurt not only that funding source, but the group’s reputation and ability to solicit more donations from local businesses.
“To this day, the playground project remains unfinished,” she said. “Thankfully, our wonderful community rallied behind us and helped us regain our footing, both financially and emotionally.”
She told the judge that Locke was, for many years, the “prime example of a parent volunteer,” attending “every event, every field trip, every meeting.” He served as president of the organization for four years before becoming treasurer several years later, in addition to leading the school board.
“You need to understand the extent of his dedication and involvement in order to appreciate the extent of our shock and horror at his actions,” she said. “As an elected official in our school district, his deceitful, callous actions against the children of Greenfield is an affront to every parent and child in the entire district.”
The group learned on Sept. 18, 2015, that Locke had stolen “almost every penny from our bank accounts,” prompting more than a year’s worth of work to find out exactly how much, she said. Locke was arrested that September after the group contacted sheriff’s deputies and reported the missing funds. He resigned from the school board the day he was arrested.
“At this junction, we can only prove Mr. Locke stole $15,015.70 from those 380 children, but we know that there is so much more,” she said.
After court, Locke, of Porters Corners, said he stole the funds because he was struggling with bills, “and it just kind of escalated.”
“It wasn’t like a one-time, all-at-once [theft],” he said, before shifting the blame to Jacksland. “Every check was signed and approved by the president of the organization. She approved every payment to me through her signature. There really wasn’t much oversight.”
Locke said that when he was charged with the crime, he was fired from his part-time jobs at Stewart’s Shops and Saratoga Courage Distillery, where he worked when his children were in school. His wife works full-time, he said.
He said he took his son out of Greenfield Elementary School after he was bullied by students and parents there as a result of the theft, sending him to Saratoga Central Catholic School instead.
Locke’s wife, Tracy, said after court that she used to volunteer in her son’s Greenfield Elementary classroom, “and I was rejected because they thought that I may have been a co-conspirator.” She said she had volunteered more than 10 years with the home/school association, including as a board member.
Jacksland said after court that she and other home/school association members have shown the Locke family only support.
“They are a vital member of our community,” she said. “Greenfield is small, we look out for each other. Unfortunately, Mr. Locke made the decision to steal, and that directly affects his family — but we never gave up support.”