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Secretary admits theft from Davis School District

Stella Smith said she defrauded the Davis School District out of $333,133 to help keep her household "afloat" under pressures of health and family problems.

Now the former school district secretary has admitted to taking the funds and has agreed to testify against two other school district officials, John and Susan Ross, who are accused of defrauding the district out of much more.

Smith stood and cried as her attorney recounted why she took federal Title I funds, which are meant to help disadvantaged students, and how the FBI discovered her scheme while investigating the $4.3 million in federal funds the Rosses are accused of taking.

Attorney Paul Grant maintained that Smith knew little about Susan Ross's enterprise, even though their plans were similar. "It appears lightning strikes twice in this case," Grant said.

Smith pleaded guilty to one count of mail fraud in court Wednesday. She admitted that while working as Susan Ross' secretary in the Title I program of the school district, from 1993 to 2005, she submitted paperwork to the school district to have E.B. Smith Co. approved as a vendor. Using that fictitious company name, Smith submitted purchase orders for books that had not been requested by district employees. Smith then received Title I checks from the government, which she deposited into a bank account controlled by her and her husband.

Grant indicated his client's link to Susan Ross was not terribly strong. "There was no meeting of the minds between my client and Susan Ross," he said.

John and Susan Ross were indicted by a federal grand jury in connection to an embezzlement operation Susan Ross is accused of running for several years while working for the school district as head of the Title I program. John Ross worked at the school district and at one point headed his wife's program.

Federal prosecutors alleged that Susan Ross ran a shell company, which supplied the Davis County School District with illegally photocopied versions of books at inflated prices. The Rosses are scheduled to stand trial on Dec. 10.

Smith, who faces a maximum of 20 years in prison, is scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 10.