February 21, 2002 11:00 pm

By T.L. Petersen

Observer Staff Writer

Its a shame for the kids to have to go through this, Georgia McKee said this morning. But theyre determined to go.

This was the arrest Thursday evening of Leann Dona Thompson, 34, of 1885 Highway 204, Elgin, on charges of two counts of first-degree theft and three counts of second-degree forgery.

Thompson is accused of misappropriating funds from the Philadelphia Trip account of Elgin-Imbler eighth-graders.

About 16 Elgin and Imbler, and two La Grande home-school students are planning to leave April 5 for a week-long trip to historic landmarks in the Philadelphia area. The trip is funded by the participants fund-raising efforts for a year prior to the trip.

While the exact amount of funds missing has not been determined, McKee said the account is thought to be missing several thousand dollars.

The students, McKee said, already have heard about the financial problems. Whether there is still enough money available for the trip which costs each student $1,525 was not known today.

At this point, its questionable whether they go or not. Theyre determined to go, McKee said of the students. McKee has worked on the Philly trip for 10 years as an adult adviser.

Similar trips, though unrelated, are held for students from La Grande and from Cove and Union.

McKee and other adults involved with the Elgin-Imbler program are now going through the groups records and accounts, trying to determine if the work of a year can be saved.

Its pretty tragic for the kids, McKee added. The current Philly group started working on fund-raising a week after those on the 2001 trip returned home.

Russ West, Union Countys district attorney who has had children of his own participate in earlier Philadelphia trips with the same group, said the three counts of forgery stem from three checks that were written on the groups Pioneer Bank account allegedly by Thompson.

Both counts of theft involve more than $1,000, he added.

Thompson was notified Thursday that a Union County grand jury had issued warrants for her arrest. She turned herself into sheriff deputies just after 8 p.m.

Thompson was jailed and $10,000 bail was set. She is expected to be arraigned in Union County Circuit Court this afternoon.

The case, West said, is a high priority for this office.

The matter came to law enforcements attention Feb. 13, Union County Sheriff Steve Oliver said earlier this week.

Deputy Sheriff Roger Washbond headed up an investigation, and with the district attorneys office, served a search warrant on Thompson Feb. 14.

While the investigation has not determined the exact amount of money missing, West emphasized that there is no indication that any other adult was involved in the alleged misappropriation of funds.

West declined to say how the case may proceed against Thompson, but did say that one of the objectives is to get the money paid back to the kids.

McKee, working to salvage the trip and restore the faith of the students, said the Elgin-Imbler Philly trip group would appreciate any help we can get.

Those who would like to support the youngsters and their trip, McKee said, can contact her at 963-2860 or 963-4630, or by writing to the Philly Trip, 65214 Webster Road, La Grande, or by contacting Susie Marshall in care of Pioneer Bank.

Reach T.L. Petersen at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it