The former finance director for the Phoenixville Area School District admitted Wednesday to stealing nearly $95,000 in money earmarked for student field trips, summer programs and sporting events.
Christopher Gehris, who resigned from the district in 2019 after an internal audit first flagged the financial discrepancies, told U.S. District Judge Mitchell S. Goldberg that he’d fabricated receipts and made false entries in the district’s ledgers in an effort to cover up his theft.
But he made no mention during a brief hearing in federal court as to where he spent the money.
Instead, Gehris, 46, spent roughly 20 minutes answering a series of standard questions from the judge as he pleaded guilty to one count of embezzlement as part of a deal struck with prosecutors.
Under the terms of the agreement, he could face up to 10 years in prison and has agreed to pay back the money that he stole. So far, his attorney Stephen I. Baer said, Gehris has already paid more than $22,000 and hopes to have paid off the entire debt by the time of his sentencing in May.
Gehris crimes first came to light after a district employee reported concerns to Superintendent Alan Fegley over how the money in one of the district’s accounts was being accounted for.
As part of the resulting investigation, district officials determined that Gehris had been making unexplained cash withdrawals, buying gift cards that later went missing and stealing from money students had paid to finance school trips.
For instance, after $10,849 in checks and cash was collected from seventh-grade students going on a class trip, Gehris changed the records of the totals collected shorting the fund nearly $800 that he deposited into his account.
That same year, according to court filings, Gehris sent an employee to buy three Visa gift cards each worth $2,000, which he said were needed for another field trip. Those cards were never accounted for, and investigators later determined that Gehris had deposited them into his personal bank account.
When the FBI confronted him with his crimes in 2020, he admitted that he’d been stealing from the district since 2010 when he was given control over its bank accounts.
In court Wednesday, Gehris said nothing about what motivated his theft, but told the judge he’d been suffering from anxiety and depression since his resignation.
School district officials declined to comment on his case but have previously said they’ve shored up internal controls and oversight procedures to ensure such embezzlement can’t happen again.