A Casper woman convicted of using money she raised to pay off student lunch debt for her own expenses will serve up to five years of supervised probation, a Natrona County District Court judge decided Friday.
Brittny French was also ordered to pay $16,610.44 in restitution to the Natrona County School District — the difference between the roughly $20,000 she raised to pay off the debt and the $3,500 she gave to the district.
She will also have to pay $1,842 in restitution to the Wyoming Emergency Housing Assistance Program. The five-year probation period handed down by Judge Kerri Johnson on a suspended two- to five-year prison sentence is harsher than the three-year probation recommended by both attorneys in the case Friday.
Court documents say that French started an online fundraiser on GoFundMe in 2018, intended to raise money to pay off student lunch debt in honor of the Kelly Walsh High School class of 2008. NCSD employees said she also met with them about the effort.
According to an affidavit in the case, the school district received anonymous letters in January 2019 saying French was withholding some of the money and wouldn’t have receipts for its distribution. When an NCSD representative asked French about the accusations, she said she had been sick and inactive but the district could expect about $4,000 in donations by the end of March.
When she did provide a check for $4,563 on March 18, French reportedly pulled it the next day. She said fees from GoFundMe and a bounced check from a donor had left the fundraiser with less money than anticipated, and gave the district a new check for $4,049.
That one bounced — but not until NCSD had used the money to pay off lunch debts for around 250 students, according to court documents. The money reportedly had to be recovered using school district funds.
French’s final donation to the district was $3,500 in cash, days after the second check was delivered. By the end of the investigation, that was the only money NCSD saw from the fundraiser. Court documents state she raised at least $20,110.44 in total.
An investigation cited in the affidavit states French had opened an account with Hilltop Bank under the name “Feed Casper Students.” A search of the account found it was opened in August 2018 and closed out in May 2019. In that time, 40 checks and various cash and online deposits were made totaling more than $19,000.
Of that, investigators found that nearly $18,000 was withdrawn in cash. The rest was spent, according to bank records, at gas stations, Walmart, Kmart, in Facebook transactions and elsewhere.
According to a transcript of French’s change of plea hearing, she had started the fundraiser intending to deliver all the money to the school district but had fallen on hard times. She told the court she lost her car and was in danger of losing her house before she decided to use some of the money for her own needs.