A former charter school principal could face decades in prison after being charged with embezzling $5,000 of federal money from the institution, federal officials said.
Noel Rodriguez, 55, who now lives in Raleigh, N.C., was indicted Nov. 22 on four counts of federal program theft, accused of taking money or property from 2011 to 2014 when he was principal of the Academy of Dover Charter School, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office for Delaware. His case was unsealed Wednesday, and federal officials announced the indictment Thursday.
During that time, the school received more than $10,000 in money annually from the U.S. Department of Education, the office said. He embezzled a portion of that money each year, which eventually added up to $5,000.
On each count, the former Dover resident faces up to 10 years in prison and three years of supervised release, in addition to possible fines and restitution, the office said.
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Rodriguez, who left the school in 2014, used school cash to make $127,866 in personal purchases, reimbursed employees for buying alcohol and other barred items, paid legal fees for a sexual harassment lawsuit and gave arbitrary bonuses to teachers, according to a report that State Auditor Tom Wagner's office issued last year.
His case is being investigated by the FBI, the federal Education Department's Inspector General's Office and the Delaware Attorney General’s Office.
Other charter schools also have been victims of embezzlement. Among them:
• In November, former charter school administrator Sean Moore pleaded guilty to embezzling $161,871 from the Family Foundations Academy in New Castle, Del., according to the U.S. Attorney's Office for Delaware.
• In October, the founder of an Atlanta charter school was indicted in connection with a theft of more than $800,000 from the school he founded. The former head Latin Academy Charter School, Christopher Clemons, was indicted on 48 counts including theft and forgery, the largest accusation in Georgia charter school history, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
• In July, a federal grand jury in Houston returned a 19-count indictment against the founding superintendent of The Varnett Public School charter school and her husband, alleging charges of conspiracy, mail fraud, tax evasion and obstruction of justice, Marian Annette Cluff and Alsie Cluff Jr. The couple is accused of embezzling more than $2.6 million, according to the FBI.
And in 2015, Benita Dinkins-Robinson of Bishopville, S.C., was sentenced to 42 months in prison and ordered her to pay more than $1.5 million in restitution after embezzling from Mary L. Dinkins Higher Learning Academy in Bishopville while she was executive director, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office for South Carolina.
Charter schools are public schools and receive public tax dollars, but independent boards and sometimes for-profit private companies run them. Students have to take standardized tests to measure achievement as public school students do.
Delaware, a state with about 950,000 residents, has 28 charter schools, according to the Delaware Department of Education. It has almost 200 other public schools, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.