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Posted at 07:11 AM ET, 04/01/2011

Md. school official spent federal funds on family: Prosecutors

A school official in Maryland who had oversight of her district’s federal funds for low-income students is accused of using tens of thousands of dollars to buy computers, video game consoles and other electronics for herself and family members, federal prosecutors said Thursday.

Rhayda Barnes-Thomas, who worked in the Charles County school system, was charged with theft from a government program and making false statements, prosecutors said. She appeared in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt, Md., and was released on her own recognizance. Her attorney declined comment.

Prosecutors said Barnes-Thomas used Title I funding — federal aid awarded to school districts with large numbers of children from low-income families — to buy more than 200 electronics items, including Nintendo Wii consoles and games, televisions, iPads and iPods.

The alleged theft of more than $100,000 was uncovered during an audit last fall.

Barnes-Thomas, 40, of Accokeek, Md., had been the school district’s Title I coordinator since 2006.

“We’re shocked that any school employee, regardless of their position, would allegedly misuse funds designated for children — and in this case, funds designated for our most economically disadvantaged students,” said school system spokeswoman Katie O’Malley Simpson.

She said Barnes-Thomas was placed on administrative leave in December and no longer works at the school.

School officials last October began an investigation after noticing that four Apple laptops bought with Title I funds were missing, according to the complaint by a U.S. Department of Education special agent. Two of the laptops were taken by two school district employees and were ultimately recovered. In December, the complaint says, a box holding the other two laptops and a newspaper article about the missing computers was placed outside a school district building.

The discovery triggered an audit of all purchases with Title I funding made by Barnes-Thomas.

Barnes-Thomas initially lied about the alleged theft by denying to an investigator that she possessed items bought with Title I funding, prosecutors said.

The theft charge carries a maximum prison sentence of 10 years, and making false statements is punishable by up to 5 years.

By The Associated Press  |  07:11 AM ET, 04/01/2011

Categories:  Charles, Schools

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