Student Fund Paid for Adults' Meals, Drinks -- and Strip Club Visits

By April Witt and David S. Fallis
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, November 9, 2007

On May 21, 2004, Emerson Crawley ran up a $225 tab at one of the District's swankiest strip clubs.

Then he stuck schoolchildren with his bill. He turned in a reimbursement request to the school system describing his visit to Camelot Show Bar as a "school planning meeting."

Over two years, Crawley and his colleague William R. Jones billed more than $13,000 worth of expensive meals, drinks and entertainment to a student activity fund at Shaw Junior High School, audit records show.

Crawley and Jones work at DC Afterschool for All, a program that provides extra instruction and afternoon supervision for thousands of impoverished children at more than 80 schools. For years, program activities were funded by depositing federal grants and local money into student activity accounts at dozens of schools District-wide.

At Shaw, where DC Afterschool is based, a former director established an administrative fund within the student activity account.

When Crawley and Jones were reimbursed for meals and entertainment, which they reported as schools-related, they were paid from the activity account.

On Valentine's Day in 2005, Crawley bought an $82.50 bottle of wine -- a Boscarelli Vino Nobile -- from Finemondo, an upscale Italian restaurant, according to school audit records. In addition to the wine and a chicken entrée, Crawley bought two shots of Blanton's bourbon and a glass of cabernet. He paid with his credit card and was reimbursed from the student activity fund.

Three days earlier, he ran up two tabs at the restaurant: one, for $81.68; the other, for $194.32. Crawley "likes good food, he likes good drink and he likes to travel," David Burkhardt, Finemondo's general manager, said in a recent interview.

From Feb. 22 through April 26, 2005, DC Afterschool employees charged meals at Finemondo on half of all workdays and even on one Saturday, audit records show. The employees dined there so often that Crawley had a house account, Burkhardt said.

In August 2004, Crawley, who had been a contract worker for DC Aftercare, was hired as a permanent employee, auditors said. That summer, he charged taxpayers for a $73.52 visit to a Bowie brewery. He also spent $62.01 at Ozio, a restaurant with six bars and a walk-in humidor. And he paid $180 for an evening at the MCCXXIII nightclub, also in the District. He explained in his reimbursement requests that all those tabs were related to his work on behalf of "summer school," audit records show.

On Aug. 14, 2004, a Saturday, Crawley ran up a $1,270.93 tab at Finemondo. He submitted a reimbursement request saying that the expense was for a "summer school closeout meeting."

Jones, Crawley's co-worker, also submitted thousands of dollars in reimbursement requests for meals and liquor at Finemondo and entertainment at a nightclub.

The two men submitted receipts indicating that during school hours they visited the Camelot, a club featuring nude dancers. The receipts were labeled "RAH of Washington D.C, Inc. -- 1823 M Street, NW," according to audit records. Rah is the licensing name for the Camelot, and that address is the club's longtime location. Jones was reimbursed $147 from the student fund for his trip to the club on July 20, 2004, and Crawley was reimbursed $225 for a visit on May 21.

Auditors concluded that the pair had been reimbursed for more than $13,000 for improper expenses over 24 months. These expenses included "elaborate lunches and dinners, happy hour cocktails and nightcaps," the audit stated.

As a result of the audit, the after-school program stopped depositing federal money into student activity accounts.

The auditor recommended that Crawley and Jones be forced to repay all the money they misspent. But their new supervisor, Esther Monclova-Johnson, instead put Jones and Crawley on 90-day probation and initially required that they repay just the $518 spent on alcohol, records indicate. She devised a plan for them to work overtime to repay the money that was spent on food and entertainment.

Auditors later questioned whether the pair actually worked any extra hours. They had submitted time sheets for holidays when the schools were closed and when their after-school program was not operating, records indicate.

The case was forwarded to the D.C. inspector general's office, which investigated, referred the matter to the U.S. attorney's office for possible criminal charges and arranged for the men to repay the misspent money. Prosecutors declined to pursue the case.

According to Monclova-Johnson, Jones has fully repaid his share, and Crawley is still making payments.

Crawley and Jones did not respond to e-mails seeking comment. Monclova-Johnson said the two declined to be interviewed. She said that they still work at the after-school program as technology managers, and that they have been given additional responsibilities during her tenure.

"These guys are extremely talented, and the work that they give to the program is not worth them being dismissed over a practice that may have been approved . . . by past directors," Monclova-Johnson said. "They weren't doing anything that they felt was wrong at the time, but maybe it was."

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