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4:33 AM Mon, Jan. 21st

Peach Springs school employee arrested

KINGMAN - An employee in the business office of the Peach Springs Unified School District was arrested Tuesday afternoon on felony charges of forgery and theft.

Michelle Norris, a Kingman resident, went to a car dealership in town and allegedly presented a check issued on the Peach Springs School District Trust to purchase a vehicle, according to a news release from the Mohave County Attorney's Office.

The bank advised the dealership in the 4100 block of Stockton Hill Road that the signature on the check appeared to be forged. Terry Flanagan, chief investigator with the Mohave County Attorney's Office, responded to the dealership, said Deborah Herbert, deputy county attorney - civil division.

Upon arrival at the dealership, Flanagan learned that a dealership representative had re-contacted Norris and asked her to return to receive a free spare tire. She was waiting to take possession of the tire when Flanagan arrived.

During questioning, Norris reportedly told Flanagan she had been given the check by another school employee as part of a loan from the district so she could buy a car.

Herbert said Wednesday that Norris attempted to buy a Hummer valued at $49,000 and the check was a down payment toward it.

Flanagan, a sworn law enforcement officer, arrested Norris at 5:15 p.m. Tuesday. She was booked into Mohave County Jail at 5:43 p.m. on one felony count each of forgery and fraud, a jail spokesperson said.

Mohave County Treasurer Lee Fabrizio's office has been looking into financial problems with the Peach Springs Unified School District. He added some background information on Norris.

She formerly worked for the Indian Health Service on the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Reservation at Eagle Butte, S.D.

"She was charged with 15 counts of making false statements in connection with data entry responsibilities," Fabrizio said. "She submitted false bills to Medicare by altering diagnosis codes and the victim there was the Indian Service Hospital.

"She evidently was behind in her work and batched codes, which caused the problems."

Norris gained no financial benefit. The 15 counts were filed as felonies in January 2003 and later pled down to misdemeanors.

"Indian Health Service lost $375,000 in revenue and then had to turn around and fix records," Fabrizio said. "That cost about $1 million."

Norris served no prison time. Her sentence in the plea deal netted her a $6,000 fine and 200 hours of community service, Fabrizio said.

Joe Haas, clerk of federal district court in Sioux Falls, S.D., was contacted. He verified filing of charges on Norris for 15 counts of making false and fraudulent statements, adding she also received five years probation as part of the agreement.