AUGUST 12, 2009
Five officials have been charged with multiple felonies for embezzling public education funds in a beleaguered U.S. city that recently saw a high-profile councilwoman plead guilty to bribery and its corrupt mayor go to jail.
The cash-strapped Detroit Public School employees operated a widespread corruption scheme over six years, openly stealing tens of thousands of dollars from the system, taking illegal kickbacks and paying friends who never did any work for the district.
Fraud and mismanagement have long plagued the ailing school district, which has been the target of numerous investigations in the last few years, so the charges are hardly surprising. Regardless, the county prosecutor handling the case said she was caught off guard by “how rampant and overt” the corruption is.
Among those charged this week is a woman who paid athletic coaches and wrote checks to friends who never coached and gave her kickbacks on the money. The woman also embezzled more than $20,000, according to prosecutors. Another employee wrote more than a dozen checks to herself totaling $10,600 and made 17 withdrawals from school accounts for another $14,650. One woman in charge of food services stole lunchroom receipts of more than $400.
Two others were previously charged before this batch of five and many more will be in the upcoming weeks, according to authorities. Barely operating with a $259 million deficit, Detroit’s school district has long been rife with severe mismanagement and fraud and finally the governor appointed an auditor who immediately hired a former FBI leader as inspector general.
The school scandal comes on the heels of two separate City Hall corruption cases that rocked the area and made national headlines. A few months ago, a powerful veteran councilwoman (Monica Conyers, wife of House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers) admitted taking bribes from a developer to change her vote on a major city contract.
Months earlier the city’s thug of a mayor, Kwame Kilpatrick, finally went to jail after years of scandals. The once popular Democrat was charged with nearly a dozen felonies for obstructing justice by lying under oath at a whistleblower trial and pleaded guilty to several of the charges to avoid an embarrassing trial and lengthier prison sentence.
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