A Chicago high school technology coordinator created a list of nine fake vendors as part of a fradulent billing scheme that netted nearly $420,000, according to a report by the Chicago Board of Education’s Inspector General’s office.
In the midst of the investigation, the technology coordinator fled to California and was later found dead in Tijuana, Mexico, according to the IG’s report.
The alleged theft is one of several cases of wrongdoing within Chicago Public Schools uncovered by the Inspector General. Those cases include a high school principal who padded enrollment figures to secure additional positions for the school, and an elementary school principal who falsified grades to allow students to graduate.
In the investigation of the high school technology coordinator, the inspector general found that between 2001 and 2011, the suspect lined up nine individuals to pose as CPS vendors, then had checks to the vendors delivered to a P.O. Box he opened in Evanston.
The coordinator subsequently forged the names of the vendor on the check and countersigned his own name before depositing the money in his own account, according to the report.
The misuse of school funds came to the light when the high school got a new principal, triggering an audit that showed more than $144,000 in suspect reimbursements to the employee’s personal credit card.
The suspect withdrew $70,000 from a personal bank account before fleeing, the report said.
The Inspector General has been working with federal investigators on the issue but no criminal charges have been filed. Inspector General Jim Sullivan’s office recommended that CPS initiate legal actions to recover the fraudulent payments.
In the ghost enrollment case, a CPS high school principal and a programmer falsely enrolled students in the school in August and September 2011 to reach a minimum student enrollment of 501 students to qualify for an assistant principal position.
The programmer told Sullivan’s office he was directed by the principal to enroll students who had been projected to initially come to the high school but failed to show up. The two later falsified grades for those fake students. CPS administrators questioned the legitimacy of the student rolls bit then the programmer dropped 30 of the ghost students, according to the report.
In October of that year as CPS sealed 20th day enrollment numbers to determine staffing, the principal again wanted to bolster enrollment, leading to up to 25 names being added again.
The principal has retired and deemed ineligible for rehire. Disciplinary action against the programmer is pending.
Other findings in the report:
— CPS employees allowed a vendor to provide “inferior” substitute products that ultimately cost the district more than $90,000 to replace. The contractor entered into an 18 month voluntary exclusion agreement with CPS and agreed to pay a $225,000 fine.
— A high school principal falsified three hotel invoices for reimbursement as news reports talked about excessive travel and lavish entertaining at the school. The former principal, who has since resigned and been deemed ineligible to be rehired, also had an associate’s airfare paid through school funds and frequently upgraded hotel rooms.
— –At the same school, the IG found the assistant principal received $350,000 in reimbursements over a three year period and “gamed the purchasing system” to gain more than $6,500 personally on reimbursements to his personal credit card and earning extra reward points. That assistant principal has also resigned and been deemed ineligible to be rehired. The reports says negotiations to recoup those reimbursements are ongoing