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NOPD says feds now looking into 2011 embezzlement from Lusher Charter School

The New Orleans Police Department is working with federal investigators in an embezzlement case from 2011 at Lusher Charter School that so far has led to no charges against the admitted embezzler.

“They are interested in moving forward with a federal prosecution,” Officer Garry Flot, police spokesman, said Wednesday via email.

Lauren Hightower, a former accountant at the Uptown school, was discovered by administrators to have forged signatures on checks adding up to $25,800. The investigation into her activities is focused on the forgeries.

The school started investigating the matter after an administrator noticed that some checks were missing. Hightower admitted writing one check for $5,000, but according to the police report, the school found that six checks for the school’s account at Whitney National Bank had been cashed.

Hightower was fired from her post; she later returned the money. School officials said she reported herself to the State Board of Certified Public Accountants, which licenses CPAs. Her license has been revoked, according to the agency’s website.

Hightower has not been charged with theft or embezzlement. The detective on the case, Michael Riley, told the Lens in March that the speedy return of the money by Hightower’s lawyer rendered the theft charge a “moot issue.”

Instead, Riley said, the police had turned its attention to forgery charges. He said that Hightower would be charged by the end of March. A month later, no charges have been filed.

Flot said that Riley has been talking with a representative from the Inspector General wing of the U.S. Department of Education, along with Assistant U.S. Attorney Tracey Knight and the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office, over how to proceed.

The U.S. Attorney’s office was not immediately available for comment. A message left with the District Attorney’s office was not immediately returned.

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About Tom Gogola

Tom Gogola covered criminal justice for The Lens from February 2012 to May 2013. He is a veteran journalist and editor who has written on a range of subjects for many publications, including Newsday, New York, The Nation, and Maxim. Gogola was a 2011 winner of the Hillman Foundation Sidney Award, for his groundbreaking report in New York magazine detailing regulatory waste in the commercial fishing industry.

  • nickelndime

    What is the difference between the Lusher case ($25,000) and the Langston Hughes ($600,000) and New Orleans Military and Maritime Academy (NOMMA) ($31,000) cases? It was my understanding that the CFO/Business Managers “used” school checks in the two latter schools as well. Perhaps Hightower has some inside information into the financial dealings at the school which has delayed progress in the case. Besides, I think the feds should give their full attention to all of the charter schools (RSD/BESE/OPSB alike) and seriously question what is being passed off (under the radar) as “legal” financial activity. All of these schools should have forensic audits.