Former Montgomery Public Schools employee

Ex-Montgomery Public Schools worker convicted of theft of stealing more than $291,000.

The source of the image is Brenda Palmer, taken from the Montgomery County Detention Facility.

An ex-member of the Montgomery Public Schools administration has been found guilty of four charges related to property theft.

According to Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall, Brenda Palmer, the former MPS Interim Chief School Financial Officer, has admitted to two felony ethics charges as well as two felony counts of providing false information to the attorney general’s office regarding a matter that was under investigation.

The commencement of Palmer’s trial was scheduled for Monday.

According to Marshall, Palmer will be sentenced as a habitual felony offender due to his prior conviction for first-degree property theft.

Marshall accused Palmer of being involved in a deceitful billing scheme that tricked MPS out of $291,367 from November 2017 to April 2019. It was revealed that Walter James, the former vice-principal of Jefferson Davis High School (now JAG), was her partner in crime. James has already pleaded guilty in state and federal court for his role and is currently serving a five-year prison term.

According to Marshall, James has been accused of presenting deceitful invoices from almost twelve fictitious companies, claiming they provided books, professional development, and other products or services to several MPS entities. Palmer has been allegedly involved in making sure that these invoices were paid without arousing suspicion. Additionally, she has been charged with forging the names of at least two employees on checks and other documents. She has also instructed her subordinates to work overtime to prepare legitimate statements, thus reducing the chances of detection of fraudulent ones.

According to Marshall, Palmer sorted out the fake checks from the authentic ones for James to collect in person. Once James deposited the checks into his Navy Federal Credit Union account, he paid Palmer the exact amounts she requested with cash. This transaction was confirmed through text messages exchanged between the two parties.

During the annual audit of the MPS system in 2019, examiners from the Alabama Department of Examiners of Public Accounts asked for supporting documents for several fraudulent checks. To produce some of these check files, Palmer was asked for assistance. However, instead of providing the check files, Palmer shredded them. She claimed she bypassed procedures because her main goal was ensuring vendors were paid. When the new CSFO confronted her with the issue, Palmer resigned. She left with her earned pension, which she received until she pleaded guilty.

According to Marshall, Palmer repeatedly lied to the attorney general’s office regarding her involvement in the scheme, her knowledge about it, her relationship with Walter James, and almost every other aspect of the State’s investigation. Marshall also revealed that James had collaborated with state and federal authorities and recorded a phone call with Palmer without her knowledge. During the call, Palmer instructed James not to send text messages, to claim that specific addresses for the fraudulent companies existed, and to deny seeing her when he received the fake checks. Palmer also asked James to blame an innocent third party, a white boy who worked in the Accounts Payable Department of MPS.

On October 3, 2023, Montgomery County Circuit Judge James Anderson will preside over Palmer’s sentencing hearing. Since Palmer is a habitual felony offender, she could be sentenced to ten to 99 years for the two ethics charges and two to 20 years for the lying charges. The State is seeking prison time for Palmer. Still, her counsel has stated they will request a community corrections sentence as an alternative punishment, allowing her to avoid serving time in jail or prison.

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