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Embezzlement charges dismissed against former Piedra Vista High School employee

Steve Garrison
The Daily Times

FARMINGTON — Charges were dismissed last week against former Piedra Vista High School employee Charles Patrick Cheney, who was accused in June of embezzling funds from the Turano-Chrisman Performing Arts Theater.

Charges of felony embezzlement filed against Cheney on June 19 were dismissed without prejudice on Oct. 1.

San Juan County Chief Deputy District Attorney Dustin O'Brien said his office did not find any evidence Cheney, 48, acted with criminal intent.

He said the evidence suggests Cheney used the money he was accused of embezzling to pay students who worked at the theater.

Cheney, who was hired by Piedra Vista in 2007, was accused of withholding funds paid to him by organizations and businesses that rented the school's theater space, according to an arrest warrant affidavit.

School officials told Farmington police detectives on June 2 that they had not received any deposits or payments collected by Cheney since he became theater manager in 2010, the affidavit states.

A business owner provided school officials an email in which Cheney told her it would cost $1,200 to rent the theater for two days, and a $300 fee had to be paid in cash.

She provided checks to police that showed she paid less than half that amount to rent the theater between 2010 and 2012, the affidavit states. Police contacted several other business owners who had rented the theater in the past year. They told police they had paid Cheney anywhere from $200 to $300 to rent the theater.

School officials said they had not received any of the payments.

Cheney resigned from Piedra Vista earlier this year after being accepted to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. He originally planned to work for the school district through the fall semester before moving to England.

Cheney could not be reached for comment on Tuesday. In a voice mail message he left for The Daily Times on Monday, he said the investigation "cost me my career and my job and everything else."

He said he still plans to attend the academy but not until next year.

Steve Garrison covers crime and courts for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4644 and stgarrison@daily-times.com. Follow him on Twitter @SteveGarrisonDT on Twitter.