FBI Raids Official's Home, Office

By V. Dion Haynes and Valerie Strauss
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, June 1, 2006

The FBI raided the office and home of the D.C. school board's executive director of charter schools yesterday as part of an investigation into the possible misuse of hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal and city funds, school board officials and law enforcement sources said.

Investigators are focusing on the charter school office, which is responsible for overseeing 17 of the city's 51 charter schools. Brenda L. Belton, a school board employee, is the office's executive director.

The other charter schools are overseen by the D.C. Public Charter School Board, which was not involved in the investigation.

School sources, who asked not to be identified because the investigation is continuing, said authorities also are looking into whether some firms hired by the charter school office were connected to Belton. The sources said that the FBI search of the office began about 7 a.m. and continued for six hours and that numerous boxes of documents were confiscated.

Last night, Belton's attorney, Danny Onorato, said that Belton had done nothing wrong.

"She adamantly denies any wrongdoing," he said, adding that Belton would have no further comment.

Belton, reached earlier yesterday on her cellphone, said she was unaware that search warrants had been executed at her office and home.

"I wasn't there. I was in a training all day," she said.

The investigation of the city's charter school office dates to January, said Peggy Cooper Cafritz, president of the D.C. Board of Education. She said that members of the board agreed then to have an audit conducted of hundreds of thousands of dollars that had been designated for the charter schools.

The audit was not prompted by any particular concerns, said Carolyn N. Graham, vice president of the school board.

"This office has never been audited," Graham said last night. "We decided all our operations have to be audited annually."

Cafritz said the board stopped its audit when the D.C. inspector general's office began to investigate the charter schools office in March.

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