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A grand jury is investigating a report that $500,000 is missing from a Chautauqua County school district even as its former business manager was jailed Tuesday, accused of stealing at least $160,000 from the school system. Richard Frame, 40, of Cherry Creek, a 15-year employee of the Pine Valley Central Schools who was fired in September after irregularities were discovered in the school system's books, was jailed after pleading innocent to a 33-count indictment at his arraignment in Chautauqua County Court in Mayville.

Judge Lee Towne Adams ordered Frame held in lieu of $75,000 cash bail or $150,000 property bail. The judge said he felt stiff bail was warranted because of the allegations of the misuse of public funds.

The grand jury handed up a sealed indictment in the case Friday, accusing Frame of stealing an average of $40,000 to $50,000 a year from the school system for the past four years.

Bank records dating to 1986 showed that Frame drafted school checks to real and fake contractors and individuals, forged endorsements on the checks and deposited the funds in his Cherry Creek bank account, said District Attorney John T. Ward Jr.

The indictment deals with 16 forged checks, including one for $14,000 for heating oil and two for $9,000 and $8,000 each, Ward said. The investigation suggests Frame forged about 100 checks since the early 1980s, Ward said.

The indictment also includes a single count of second-degree grand larceny and 16 counts each of forgery and possession of forged checks.

A grand jury continues to probe a report that $500,000 is missing from the school system since 1981, Ward said, with investigators attempting to learn if Frame had any help in the scheme and what happened to the money.

Ward said prosecutors subpoenaed enough school district bank records to justify the second-degree grand larceny charge, which required establishing that Frame embezzled at least $50,000. The charge carries a possible prison term of up to 15 years.

"We don't have to prove every penny that was stolen" to get a conviction, Ward said.

Frame declined to comment before his arraignment.

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