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U.S. attorney: Md. school staffer used federal funds to buy video games, iPods

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A Charles County public schools administrator pleaded guilty in federal court Tuesday to pocketing federal funds and using the money, intended to help the system’s poorest students, to buy $100,000 worth of video games, cameras and laptops.

Rhayda Barnes-Thomas, 41, of Accokeek could face up to 10 years in prison. She is scheduled to be sentenced next month.

Barnes-Thomas served since 2006 as a Title I specialist for the Charles school system. This year, the 26,000-student district received about $2 million through the program, which boosts services for students who come from low-income areas.

County schools officials started to investigate after officials noticed that laptop computers were missing, according to schools spokeswoman Katie O’Malley-Simpson.

This prompted a wider investigation, according to a statement from U.S. Attorney Rod Rosenstein’s office, in which 200 items that could not be found were determined to have been purchased with Title I funding over a two-year period. Most of the purchases were made in Barnes-Thomas’s name.

Agents found some of the missing items when they searched her home and her daughter’s home, according to the statement.

Discovered, among other things, were three Nikon Coolpix cameras, three 32GB iPod Touches, a GPS device, two 32-inch televisions, “Madden NFL 11” for the Nintendo Wii and a MacBook.

The statement alleges that Barnes-Thomas sold an iPad for $200 to her hairdresser, and her daughter sold another one “because she did not have any use for it.” O’Malley-Simpson said the school system plans to file a victim-impact statement and “hopes the sentencing will include restitution to our school system.”

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