A former Azleway employee pleaded guilty in connection with stealing about $190,000 over a three-year period from the Boys’ Ranch for foster children.

Toni Marie Rambo, 64, of Troup, who was the director of quality control for the ranch until August 2018, entered the plea Friday in the 114th District Court to an enhanced charge of property theft between $100,000 and $200,000.

The charge was enhanced because she is accused of stealing from a nonprofit organization, according to the arrest warrant.

A forensic accounting performed by The Burkett Firm revealed Rambo had misappropriated $189,916 between February 2015 and August 2018.

Judge Christi Kennedy said a presentence investigation would be held ahead of sentencing. Her next hearing is scheduled for March 12. Due to Rambo’s guilty plea, the range of punishment is five to 99 years and a fine not to exceed $10,000.

The sentencing hearing is set for March 12, according to Smith County judicial records.

A spokesman for the Smith County Sheriff’s Office said Rambo turned herself in at the Smith County Jail on Oct. 28 last year. Rambo was released the same day after posting bail on a $300,000 bond.

In March 2019, attorney Bill Hommel, representing Azleway, contacted the Smith County Sheriff’s Office to report the theft. Judge Jack Skeen of the 241st District Court signed the warrant on June 28.

Azleway’s interim CEO, Chester Amidon, told detectives that Rambo oversaw weekly cash allowance disbursements to children who lived at the residential center. They would receive a certain amount each week for exhibiting good behavior and performing jobs.

During an interview with Azleway, administrators and the attorney, Rambo was questioned about misappropriating the money and confessed. She was fired a short time later. The director told detectives that he did not record or transcribe that interview, though.

Rambo is accused of altering allowance sheets for children by changing the amounts and pocketing the rest. One example given was a sheet showing a resident earned $7. Rambo then added $75 for an amount totaling $82 and kept the $75.

In response to Rambo’s arrest, a spokesperson for Azleway released a statement on Oct. 30.

“On behalf of all employees and the children we serve, Azleway is deeply appreciative of the concern and support sent forth by our community. Azleway has a policy of not discussing open matters concerning current or former employees,” the statement read. “We respect our employees’ right to a thorough examination of any issue before commenting publicly.”

According to the statement, the organization said it’s committed to helping foster children find safe homes.

“As we complete our 40th year of service, Azleway remains focused on the care and well-being of foster children and those in need of a permanent home. We are currently serving 300 children and teens in our residential, foster care and substance abuse programs. This spring, we celebrated 11 foster children graduating from their respective high schools and Azleway continues our successful adoption program, placing 27 children into loving homes this year alone.”

Azleway is a nonprofit that provides foster care services and substance abuse programs. It describes its Boys’ Ranch in Smith County, as providing “inpatient psychological and support services for troubled youth in a rural residential setting.”

The ranch has eight family style cottages on 50 acres, and staff members who live onsite. The Boys’ Ranch represents $1.1 million of Azleway’s $12 million budget, according to a 2017 IRS form posted to the organization’s website. Almost all of Azleway’s funding comes from grants at the local, state and federal levels.

This is not the first time Azleway has been under the microscope. In 2018, state investigations found evidence of physical attacks, unsupervised children and sexual misconduct between residents occurring between 2016 and December of 2018.

KYTX-CBS19 obtained more than 100 investigation notices regarding the ranch. Amidon replaced former executive director Gary Duke on Jan. 1.

Amidon announced he would focus on downsizing the residential program and on a transitional program for older boys, which would result in the younger boys living at the ranch being sent home or placed in foster homes or other programs, according to the reporting by CBS19.

In 2014, a state judge ordered Azleway to close the charter school system it operated, as a separate entity from the Boys’ Ranch, in New Chapel Hill, Willow Bend and Big Sandy after the Texas Education Agency revoked Azleway’s charter due to poor academic and financial performance.

Cory McCoy contributed to this report

Reporter

I came to the Tyler Morning Telegraph in September 2019. I report on crime, courts, breaking news and various events in Tyler and East Texas.

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