A forensic investigation into suspicious employee background checks by the Dryades YMCA, which runs James M. Singleton Charter School, specifically names the organization’s former CFO and outlines the process — including an apparent template for producing fake background checks — allegedly used to craft fraudulent background checks.
Former CFO Catrina Reed left the embattled organization in March along with its CEO, amid investigations by the NOLA Public Schools district and the New Orleans Police Department into how Singleton administrators were conducting employee background checks, which are required for school employees under state law.
The district flagged the school in March after discovering a number of Singleton background checks that could not be authenticated by the Louisiana State Police. The Dryades YMCA referred the matter to police shortly after. And Reed was arrested June 1 on 12 counts of injuring public records and one count of theft for allegedly fabricating the background checks and pocketing money that was supposed to be used to pay for them. But previously available documents did not explicitly detail the evidence against Reed, other than showing she was the one emailing background checks to other Dryades officials.
However, Dryades YMCA lawyer Charles Zimmer recently submitted the forensic investigation as an exhibit in a lawsuit the organization filed against the school district early this month. The 27-page forensic report, completed in April at the Dryades YMCA’s request, says there was a template for producing the phony background checks: a Microsoft Word file named “background check.docx” stored in a folder under Reed’s user profile.
“This document created the appearance that a legitimate criminal background check had been performed by LSP,” auditors wrote, noting metadata shows Reed created the file and was the last to modify it.
The investigation was introduced in a hearing last week in Orleans Parish Civil District Court, where the Dryades YMCA asked a judge to prevent the NOLA Public Schools district from contacting Singleton families before the district’s threatened charter revocation becomes final — which would effectively close the school as soon as this month.
“This report does indicate that they identified an individual,” district Director of School Accountability Paige Jackson testified, indicating the district had previously received the report.
Judge Jennifer Medley granted the order prohibiting the district from contacting families and ordered the two sides to mediation by the end of this week. The organization’s lawsuit followed a June 30 announcement from NOLA Public Schools officials that they were starting the charter revocation process, which takes between one and two months.
Medley questioned district officials, who have mounted complaints against the Central City school over the past year, regarding their decision to seek revocation over the summer with the start of the school year roughly a month away. The hearing veered frequently from the restraining order to Singleton’s alleged problems, including financial issues, low academic performance, and the background check issues, first noted by district officials in a September 2020 site visit.
“It looks like NOLA-PS didn’t return until March 4 — that’s five to six months later,” Medley said. “Do you think the background checks issues should be allowed to linger?”
Under oath, NOLA Public Schools Superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr. explained the revocation process and also spoke about non-compliance issues at the school. When it comes to background checks, Lewis revealed new details.
“An internal investigation did not happen in my opinion,” Lewis said.
“I had to myself, my team, call the police,” he testified, noting he also instructed school officials to do so.
Medley ultimately decided to order the district and organization to mediation to discuss the non-compliance issues. She ordered them to complete the process this week.
“The harms that have allegedly been done — I do not think are an emergency because they’ve existed,” she said.
Y Not Check
The background check service Reed used was called Y Not Check Background and Fingerprinting, located on Jackson Avenue. It opened in 2008, two years after Dryades opened Singleton as a Recovery School District charter school. It is owned by the former Dryades YMCA CEO Douge Evans’ wife, Yolanda Doucette, as WWL-TV reported in April.
The forensic audit details 12 invoices from Y Not Check between July 2017 and October 2020.
“The invoices reflect that during this time period, Y Not Check Background & Fingerprinting may have fingerprinted over 45 individuals on behalf of Dryades YMCA,” auditors concluded.
The auditors also discovered another possibly problematic trend. Y Not Check only submitted some of those fingerprinted individuals to law enforcement for full background checks.
“It is unknown from just the invoices why some individuals were only fingerprinted and others were the subjects of the State Background Fee/FBI Check services.”
Auditors also noted that several of the unauthenticated background checks contained the same Louisiana State Police lieutenant’s signature. That lieutenant did work in the background check department for a period of time, according to state police.
Another exhibit in the forensic report shows the school had background check issues dating back as far as 2014, when a state agency noted the problem.
NOLA Public Schools officials did not immediately respond to an inquiry about whether they knew of this warning.
Reed could not be reached for comment and court records do not list an attorney representing her.
The 250-student Central City school still faces the possibility of closure before the school year begins.
Lewis has started the revocation process and will make his recommendation to the Orleans Parish School Board at both its committee meeting July 27 and full board meeting July 29. Dryades YMCA representatives will have the opportunity for a public rebuttal at each meeting.
Then, the board has up to one month to vote to overturn his recommendation with a two-thirds majority of the full seven-member board. The board could also elect to waive that right in a vote on July 29, which would in effect finalize the school closure.
District officials are supposed to contact families today regarding the possible revocation, but Lewis said the restraining order was preventing them from doing so.
“The academic and emotional well-being of our students remains our top priority,” spokeswoman Taslin Alfonzo wrote in an email, asking if families had been notified. “To that end, NOLA Public Schools is working with the Dryades YMCA to engage in mediation Friday, July 16, 2021. After the mediation, the District will determine how to move forward in this matter.”