A high-ranking Prince George's County school administrator has been arrested in connection with a multimillion-dollar drug ring based in Virginia that distributed large amounts of cocaine and marijuana, law enforcement authorities said yesterday.
Pamela Y. Hoffler-Riddick, an assistant superintendent in charge of 35 schools, was arrested at her home in Rockville at 6 a.m. Monday by U.S. customs officials, authorities said. She later appeared at U.S. District Court in Norfolk and was charged with five counts of money laundering. She was released without bond.
Pamela Hoffler-Riddick came to Prince George's schools in 2003.
Hoffler-Riddick was one of more than 30 people named in a 267-page indictment that capped a two-year investigation led by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement with help from the Drug Enforcement Administration.
From September 1996 until this month, the ring moved about $20 million in illegal drugs across several states, including Georgia, Kentucky, Missouri and Texas, according to the indictment. The defendants, many of them with such nicknames as "Smurf" and "Big Daddy," established fictitious businesses, funneled money through bank accounts and credit unions, bought real estate, and used threats and firearms to conduct their activities, according to court records.
Hoffler-Riddick, 43, is accused of using proceeds from the drug ring to pay off loans for a car and two homes. David Bouchard, her court-appointed attorney, said she has denied any wrongdoing. He called the scheme a "massive web" that caught both willing actors and unwitting people like Hoffler-Riddick.
"I just don't see a woman of this caliber having anything to do with this," he said, adding that Hoffler-Riddick was released on her own recognizance while others named in the indictment were not.
"Criminal law requires criminal intent and knowledge," he said. "And she doesn't have that."
News of the arrest stunned the Prince George's school community, still dealing with investigations by state and federal authorities into schools chief Andre J. Hornsby's handling of contracts with educational software vendors.
"I do not feel comfortable at all with the school system," said Sandra Pruitt, who has two children in Hoffler-Riddick's region, whose communities include Suitland and Forestville. "I think there needs to be more accountability for our leaders. I think right now our leaders have almost a blank check."
Hornsby hired Hoffler-Riddick in September 2003 to run one of the school district's five regions at an annual salary of $138,244. Previously, she briefly oversaw Baltimore school programs for students at risk of failing. From February 2000 until June 2002, she was a community superintendent and then an associate superintendent for Montgomery County Public Schools. Before coming to Maryland, she was an educator in Virginia for 16 years.
Prince George's school spokesman John White said yesterday that Hoffler-Riddick has been placed on administrative leave and will be paid until her vacation time runs out.
"She was an employee who had a clean background check when we hired her," White said.
Federal authorities had been watching Hoffler-Riddick since May 2003, said Allan Doody, special agent in charge of the customs bureau's Washington field office. Doody said authorities did not notify her employer of their investigation because it is not typical practice.
The allegations against Hoffler-Riddick stretch from 1998 to 2001.