Traverse City Record-Eagle


May 25, 2011

Custodian jailed for theft of coin jar

TRAVERSE CITY — A Traverse City Area Public Schools custodian is in jail after police said they caught him on camera stealing hundreds of dollars in change from Eastern Elementary School.

Traverse City police arrested Jason David Cook, 34, of Traverse City, on Monday. He is charged with stealing about $500 from the school, including money raised by students for a campaign that provides stuffed animals to children in military families.

"It puts some closure on it to know that someone's been caught," said Heather Asiala, a member of the school's parent-teacher organization who helped organize the fundraiser.

On April 25, school officials told police that $200 was stolen from a donation jar at Eastern. Traverse City Police Capt. Brian Heffner said there was no forced entry to the school, leading investigators to suspect involvement by someone who had a building key. Police then installed a surveillance camera in an attempt to identify the thief.

Money, separate from the donated funds, was placed in a locked area to be monitored by school employees.

"We were hoping that no additional monies came up missing, but if it did, we wanted to definitively say who was taking money from the school," Heffner said.

After the initial theft, the community rallied behind the cause and donated more than $3,500 to replenish the funds.

Cindy Berck, TCAPS' human resources director, said the larger figure wasn't at risk.

"The donations that came in after the initial theft were handled in a secure and professional manner," she said.

On Sunday, Eastern staff members reported that some of the bait money was missing. The surveillance tape showed a man emptying the change from a water jug into a bucket. Eastern Principal Jana DuGuay identified the man in the video as Cook, according to court records.

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