Employee accused of stealing $23K from Salt Lake City schools foundation — and spending it on perfume and prepaid credit cards

The secretary for a nonprofit that raises money for Salt Lake City schools has been charged with stealing more than $23,000 — and spending it on perfume, a hammock stand, prepaid credit cards and her own college tuition.

Lavinia Hyde, 47, faces nine felony counts including misuse of public money, identity fraud and forgery. She is accused of siphoning funds from the Salt Lake Education Foundation for more than a year starting in February 2016.

Salt Lake County prosecutors, though, filed the charges last week after an internal audit of the foundation showed the alleged transactions.

“That’s taxpayer money,” said Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill. “When you have allegations of theft and misuse, that’s an injury that’s not against one person, but all of us collectively. These are very serious allegations.”

The foundation, which gathers donations and support for the Salt Lake City School District, raises roughly $4 million each year to spend on improving the 40 schools in the city, according to financial statements on its website. That fundraising work is typically done behind the scenes, encouraging academic support from individuals and businesses.

Hyde’s LinkedIn page shows that she was the secretary for the foundation, though it’s not clear how long she worked there. She did not return calls for comment Tuesday.

James Yapias, the director of the foundation, responded with an emailed statement. He said the money was taken out of the operational budget and not donations. Hyde, he added, was immediately placed on administrative leave and later fired when the funding discrepancies were discovered.

“I want our taxpayers and donors to know this incident did not divert any funds from our schools,” Yapias said, noting it did not happen during his administration.

The director also noted that reforms have been made to prevent future thefts and increase oversight. Those include new tracking procedures and reviews for gift cards, scholarships and purchase requests.

The charges allege that Hyde bought 39 prepaid credit cards using her work credit card and that of another employee at the foundation. Only three were properly documented and went to teachers. There was no accounting for where the remaining 36 cards went. The court filing suggests Hyde used them on herself.

In total, Hyde spent $14,980 to get the cards, all purchased at a Salt Lake City grocery store.

“When confronted with this information, Hyde admitted that she had purchased these prepaid Visa cards but claimed that the cards had gone to various people and/or programs associated with SLEF but could not produce any evidence to show that they had actually gone to any of them,” the charges state.

At one point, she showed investigators an email purportedly from the school district’s homeless liaison asking for three credit cards. Salt Lake City police officers later determined the message was forged.

During an audit into her expenses, the foundation also found that Hyde allegedly used her work credit card to buy perfume, soap and a hammock stand. That cost $135.04.

She also apparently wrote two checks — one to Weber State University and the other to Salt Lake Community College — to cover tuition and fees she owed. Those totaled $8,500. The one to Weber State was later refunded to the education foundation. The one to SLCC was not.

Hyde wrote other student names on the checks, but used her student ID number so they would go into her account. "There was a concerted effort to facilitate that fraud,” Gill added.

With all of the charges together, Hyde allegedly stole $23,615.04. She is expected to appear in court for the first time on Oct. 15.