Wednesday, December 23, 2009

WHEN CRIME PAYS IN DAVIS, UTAH

At times, it sounded like an acceptance speech from a highly decorated veteran educator receiving an award.

Susan Ross, former director of federal programs for the Davis School District, on December 14, 2009, spoke of her love of teaching and of children. She had devoted her career to offering them the best possible education, she said.
But this was no acceptance speech. Ross was addressing a federal judge at her sentencing after pleading guilty to a charge of felony money laundering. Ross and her husband, John Ross, are believed to have stolen nearly $4 million in federal education funds in an embezzlement scheme that involved selling pirated textbooks to the school district at inflated prices. A federal indictment said the Rosses set up a company to supply the district with photocopies of books for as much as $80 each when they normally would retail for $15-$25.
Susan Ross, who prosecutors said served a larger role in the commission of the crimes, was sentenced to 36 months of probation, with the first six to be served in home confinement. U.S District Judge Clark Waddoups also ordered that Ross perform 3,000 hours of community service, pay a $10,000 fine and $350,115 in restitution.
Incredibly, Ross will not serve a day in prison, even though sentencing guidelines allowed for a maximum 10-year prison term.
In an unusual step, U.S. Attorney Brett Tolman issued a statement following the sentencing that said, in part, "People who abuse a position of trust, profit substantially, and do so in a totally illegal manner should face more than probation. If you consider the sentence of probation in this case, apparently crime does pay."
Indeed.
While Susan Ross was able to produce several letters from acquaintances and former students who credited her with encouraging them to pursue college educations, for a number of years she systematically embezzled federal Title I funds intended to assist low-achieving students master math and reading and help them meet state standards in core academic subjects. A prosecutor said in court that between 2000 and 2005, the Rosses had pocketed 39 percent of the Title I education funds appropriated to the Davis School District for those years, a figure Susan Ross' defense counsel disputes.
Regardless, the funds were not used for their intended purposes. While Susan Ross may have inspired many students to seek higher education, disadvantaged students, minorities and students with disabilities were short-changed of opportunities due to the Rosses' crimes.
Earlier this year, John Ross pleaded guilty to one count of placing fraudulent copyrights on stolen texts, a misdemeanor. He was ordered to pay a $500 fine. The pair also was ordered to forfeit $800,000 from their bank accounts, two vehicles and homes in Layton, South Weber and Mountain Green.
Neither John Ross, who was a federal grant specialist for the school district, nor Susan Ross was a career criminal, which undoubtedly figured into their sentences. But these offenses were not the stuff of a one-time lapse in judgment. They were crimes systematically perpetrated over a number of years. That aggravating factor should have weighed in favor of prison time for Susan Ross, if not also a brief incarceration for her husband.

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