Toni Marie Rambo

Toni Marie Rambo

TYLER — A former Azleway employee was arrested and charged with stealing about $190,000 over a three-year period from the Boys’ Ranch for foster children.

Toni Marie Rambo, 64, of Troup has been charged with theft of property, more than $100,000 but less than $200,000 enhanced. She was the director of quality control for the ranch until August 2018. The charge was enhanced because she is accused of stealing from a nonprofit, according to the arrest warrant.

A spokesman for the Smith County Sheriff’s Office said Rambo turned herself in at the Smith County Jail on Monday evening. Jail records show she was released Monday on a $300,000 bond.

In March, attorney Bill Hommel, representing Azleway, contacted the Smith County Sheriff’s Office to report the theft.

A forensic accounting performed by the Burkett Firm revealed Rambo had misappropriated money totaling $189,916 between February 2015 and August 2018, court documents show.

Azleway’s interim CEO Chester Amidon told detectives that Rambo oversaw weekly cash allowance disbursements to children who lived at the ranch. 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.

A spokesperson for Azleway released a statement Wednesday afternoon.

“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. We respect our employees’ right to a thorough examination of any issue before commenting publicly.

“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 in Texas. It describes its Boys’ Ranch, located 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 on-site. The Boys’ Ranch represents $1.1 million of Azleway’s $12 million budget, according to its 2017 IRS Form 990 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.

News-Journal and Tyler Morning Telegraph news partner 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 back 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 Chapel Hill, Willow Bend and Big Sandy after the Texas Education Agency revoked Azleway’s charter because of poor performance.