On Tuesday, the New Orleans Police Department issued an arrest warrant for James M. Singleton Charter School’s former chief financial officer amid an investigation into problematic background checks at the Central City school, which is run by the Dryades YMCA.
The warrant, first reported by WWLTV, was issued for “12 counts of injuring public records and for one count of theft,” according to an NOPD spokesman Gary Scheets. Catrina Reed, who resigned her post as CFO in March, allegedly also collected $431 for background checks that were never performed, Scheets wrote.
The news comes six months after the NOLA Public Schools district first found the school was missing some legally required background checks and two months after a follow-up review that revealed additional problems.
Asked about the arrest warrant, NOLA Public Schools district spokesperson Taslin Alfonzo said the district has an accountability team that “performs regular and routine checks of schools to ensure adherence to board policy and district regulations.”
“When an issue comes to light that may require further review, the District strongly encourages schools to work with the proper authorities who investigate such matters,” she wrote. “Because the District is not an investigative agency, we cannot comment on this situation.”
As of last week, the district’s warning to the school was still “pending resolution.”
The early March review found some of Singleton’s employee background checks that couldn’t be verified by Louisiana State Police, and that one employee was ineligible to work in a school due to their criminal history. The district issued the school a written warning on March 10.
On March 15, The Lens asked the NOPD about the incident. An NOPD spokesman responded on March 16, stating the school had been advised by the NOLA Public Schools district to contact authorities. An initial police report, dated March 16, shows officer Lazono Black responded to a call from school principal Erika Mann.
In the report, Black details issues with several background checks. For example, three employees all had background checks with the same audit numbers, a code that is supposed to serve as a unique identifier. Another two employees shared a different audit number. Neither number could be verified in the Louisiana State Police’s online authentication system.
The authentication code found on one teacher’s background check, as emailed to the school, is associated with a 2018 background check for a social worker. A problem that was discovered more than once.
A background check for Catrina Reed dated Aug. 12, 2005 could not be authenticated based on its associated code either. Federal court records show that Reed was charged with embezzling money from a bank in 1996, eventually pleading guilty to a lesser charge. An internal investigation conducted by Mann in late March and included in the police report also notes an employee with initials “CR” as having committed “bank fraud, embezzlement and bank larceny.”
Mann found four additional background checks lacked similar key information.
“Five background checks incorrectly indicate that the employee did not have a rap sheet,” Mann explained. She then details five initials, which appear to stand for five individuals and various crimes, including theft, larceny, bank fraud, DWI, possession of marijuana and concealed weapons charges.
The police report states the officer referred school officials to the Louisiana State Police, who conducted the background checks. The officer also spoke with a State Police detective.
“Detective Hughes stated the fraud would arise if fraudulent information is submitted in the background check application and any information changed once returned to the requesting office would be an internal personnel issue,” according to the report.
The police report also included the March 10 warning letter, Mann’s report, and a series of emails between district officials and the Central City charter school.
“LSP was months behind with completing background checks and there was a statewide backlog,” Mann wrote in a March 22 letter to then CEO Darren Mire and board chair Barbara Lacen-Keller.
After a delay in receiving the background checks, Mann drove to Baton Rouge to determine what the problem was. According to an included letter, Mann told school officials that an LSP officer said the employee who normally received background check packages was out because of a health problem, and the school’s package was placed in the corner of an office no one knew about.
A recent audit also revealed the school spent $260 at a company called Y Not Check Background and Fingerprinting, which is owned by former Dryades YMCA CEO Doug Evans’ wife and was reported by WWLTV.
News of the arrest warrant comes two weeks after the school district scrapped proposed new language for charter contracts. The proposal included specific procedures for conducting background checks, but ultimately was not presented to the Orleans Parish School Board.
The school has had previous issues with its finances and its background check procedures.
In 2014, with Reed serving as CFO, the school skirted payments to the Teacher Retirement System of Louisiana by misclassifying employees. The state pension plan is known to be more costly than traditional 401(k) or 403(b) retirement plans that charter schools can also offer.
In 2015, years before the latest warning letters, a state audit identified problems with Singleton’s background checks.