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Military academy reports $31,000 missing through fraudulent checks

Authorities are investigating $31,000 in public funds misappropriated from New Orleans Military and Maritime Academy charter school.

Col. Bill Davis, commandant for the Federal City school, said he contacted police last year after discovering two checks for $2,500 and $28,500 he thought were fraudulent.

Davis said the checks were invoiced as if they were written to Office Depot and Tech Depot. But they were actually made out to “POS, Inc.,” a nonprofit organization registered with the Louisiana Secretary of State that also goes by the name “People of Substance.”

Darrell K. Sims, a former NOMMA employee, is listed with the state as registered agent and director for the group.

Davis said school officials unearthed the discrepancy in July, two months after terminating Sims, a business manager who had been with NOMMA since August 2011.

“Obviously this is not how we want to run the academy and be accountable to the citizens for public funds,” Davis said.

The Lens was not able to reach Sims Monday evening to comment on the matter.

In an interview Monday, Davis first declined to name Sims, but he later confirmed Sims was the former employee in question.

Davis said on Monday that he co-signed the two checks without realizing they were written for something other than what the invoices stated.

“I threw myself on the mercy of the board,” he said. “I screwed up.”

But on Tuesday, after going over evidence with the detective assigned to his case, Davis said it appears the checks had been altered. “We now have evidence of forgery as we move forward,” he said.

This isn’t the first time a business employee has been accused of stealing from a charter school. In 2010, Kelly Thompson was sentenced to five years in prison for stealing $660,000 while business manager at Langston Hughes Academy. And there’s an open police investigation involving former Lusher Charter School employee Lauren Hightower, 30, following a complaint about $25,000 in forged checks.

The business manager was terminated in May; at the time Davis did not disclose why. The school hired the CPA firm of Silva Gurtner & Abney to work with Tony Taffaro, a teacher with a business background, to transfer the school’s finances into QuickBooks business management software.

It was then, Davis said, that the fraudulent checks came to light.

Davis said he alerted NOMMA’s board to the problem during an executive session in August. Some time later, he said, the school sent a certified letter to the former business manager asking for an explanation.

After two weeks passed without a reply, Davis said, he reported the matter to the New Orleans Police Department. The case was recently transferred to a new detective, with whom he expected to meet on Tuesday.

“It’s disappointing and frustrating to have that happen, because that’s taxpayer money that should be going to the school,” Davis said.

The fraudulent checks were noted in a financial audit that Davis presented to the board during its Feb. 21 meeting. Although Davis said he notified police on Oct. 15, the audit says the matter was reported to police in November and that charges are pending. Police did not make the report available to The Lens on Monday.

Davis acknowledged the months-long lag time between discovering the discrepancy and reporting it to police.

During that period, he said, he and the school’s principal were moving the school from one facility to another, beginning a new school year and securing complicated funding for a permanent school building.

The best case scenario now, Davis said, is getting that money back.

“We have made considerable improvements in our operations in an attempt to keep this from happening again,” he said. “We will also do everything possible to recover or restore these funds.”

Editor’s note: This story was updated Tuesday afternoon with additional information from Col. Bill Davis regarding what he said is evidence of forgery.

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  • nickelndime

    This is a Type 2 BESE-approved charter school, founded by, and whose nonprofit was formed by Adams and Reese LLP, Pastorek’s former law firm. This is the same law firm that represents Moton in testing irregularities (and refuses to answer requests for information as per Lee C. Reid) and now represents the Lycee Board to the tune of @ 300.00+ per hour. Proud law firm of Einstein, the Eastbank Collaborative of Charter Schools, Algiers Charter Schools Association…

  • nickelndime

    Hello! There are State requirements for public school Business Managers (please don’t tell me that charter schools are exempt, i.e., operate under a different set of rules and requirements). “The school hired the CPA firm… to work with Tony Taffaro, a teacher with a business background, to transfer the school’s finances into QuickBooks business management software.” Well, I fell off my chair on that one! Picking myself up, where is Caroline Roemer Shirley in that “101” class (is that theory or application?)? Seems like somebody forget to do their homework!

  • nickelndime

    Paul Pastorek called for (and got it) John Alford’s (NewSchools for NewOrleans protege’ and Langston Hughes’ CEO) resignation when the 6-figure “business manager” mishap occurred. I notice that Col. Davis has thrown himself on the mercy of the board. Well, things have laxed up a bit. Haven’t they?

  • Joy Van Buskirk

    And the charter school saga rolls on. No oversight for these schools, little accountability, if any. There is a need for an in depth investigation of charter schools – cheating scandals, misappropriation of taxpayer dollars, and charter school boards/members unfit to be the stewards of the public trust. Some media entity will have to step up to the plate, and thoroughly investigate what is happening in these schools keeping in mind how important their operations are to the students whose lives they affect. This will be no small task, but one that is warranted.

  • Well Suzanne White stole money from student accounts at McMain in 2002,2003. I hand carried damning evidence to Amato and Jim Leden. NOTHING WAS DONE

  • nickelndime

    I feel the pain. Anthony “Tony” Amato returned home to Louisiana after a superintendency stint (or 2) elsewhere. He was a favorite of Paul Pastorek and BESE pre-Katrina. Upon his return post-Katrina, Anthony Amato became the CEO of the International High School. The school’s SPS = “D,” but from what I have read, the students put together a fantastic marching team in time for Mardi Gras 2013. This is not a negative comment aimed at the students. It is aimed at BESE and the LDOE. Way to go, BESE! I guess it really does pay to have friends in high places – if you want to call Louisiana high.

  • nickelndime

    BTW – I think THE LENS is the media entity that is stepping up to the plate! Way to go, THE LENS!