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Some Eden cheerleaders accused of shoplifting Incident happened at Disney World

Cheerleaders from Eden are learning a hard lesson: Don't steal from Mickey Mouse.

Some members of the Eden High School cheerleading squad went on a shoplifting spree in Walt Disney World last month, according to Florida law enforcement officials.

The varsity squad was in Orlando, Fla., to participate in a cheerleading competition. But some girls had a run-in with the law after the competition.

At least two were arrested and charged with stealing from the Magic Kingdom. They must return to court in Florida. Other girls received warnings.

School district officials refused to answer questions about the matter, even though details about it have been known in the community for two weeks.

Superintendent Ronald Buggs would not confirm the incident happened. Board members and other school officials also refused to discuss the matter.

"I don't have any comment," board President Tom Gannon said. "This is a confidentiality matter. If you get information from Florida, that's fine."

Details from the district attorney's office and the Sheriff's Office in Orange County, Fla., support the shoplifting claims.

"The Orange County Sheriff's Office is involved with investigations of shoplifting at Walt Disney World on March 19, 2007," said spokesman Jeff Williamson, who was circumspect about the incident because it involved juveniles. "The cases have been sent to the state attorney's office for prosecution."

Williamson acknowledged that when minors are involved in criminal activity, the deputy on the case has discretion as to whether the magnitude of the offense warrants an arrest. If a crime involving a young person isn't too severe, he said, the deputy may simply release the minor to a chaperone or guardian.

In this case, according to Florida sources, more girls were caught than arrested. It does not appear that all members of the squad were involved.

No arrest involved a girl 18 or older, Williamson said, so no names were released.

Disney has a reputation for tight security and aggressive prosecution of shoplifters.

"We take security very seriously at the Walt Disney World Resort," said spokesman Jacob DiPietre. "Whenever there is an incident of shoplifting we automatically notify law enforcement so they can file the appropriate report."

The Eden varsity squad, comprising at least 15 members, is known for its cheerleading talent. The team finished second in the Springville and Fredonia Blue Devils competitions this season.

The cheerleaders raised money from parents and community members to attend the 2007 AmeriCheer InterNational Competition at Disney's Wide World of Sports on March 17-18. After placing seventh out of 10 teams, the girls had the next day free. That's when police say the shoplifting occurred.

Principal Marc Graff and Douglas Beetow, head of the athletic department, and several School Board members refused to say what the students are accused of doing or what disciplinary action, if any, would be taken.

Buggs refused to say whether any incident had taken place, whether the district was taking the matter seriously, or what potential disciplinary actions might be.

"I'm not at liberty to share anything," he said, citing advice from the district's lawyer.

But Robert Freeman, executive director of New York State's Committee on Open Government, said Buggs is mistaken about his legal restrictions.

"What they can't do is disclose information that is personally identifiable to a student unless the parent consents," he said. "It doesn't seem to me that confirmation that an incident occurred would make any individual's identity traceable."

Buggs said he didn't care about Freeman's opinion.

e-mail: stan@buffnews.com

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