More educational malfeasance along the Mississippi River...
The superintendent of the Rivervew Gardens school district, in suburban north St. Louis County, has been charged with theft, tax-evasion, and --WOW-- suspended WITH pay:
St. Louis County prosecutors on Friday charged Riverview Gardens School District Superintendent Henry Williams with two counts of stealing and three counts of attempting to evade income taxes.
The charges allege that Williams, 65, wielded power to establish a pattern of theft and deception from January 2003 through December of last year.
Together, the charges carry a maximum sentence of 37 years.
St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert P. McCulloch said Williams, through his attorneys, agreed to surrender at the St. Louis County Justice Center by Friday evening. Bond has been set at $50,000.
McCulloch said the first felony theft count involved more than $100,000 in payments that Williams ordered, including interest on his personal loans.
The second count involved about $1,000 in reimbursements for fake travel expenses and double-billing district credit cards.
The prosecutor also said Williams told the school district to pay at least $60,000 to an annuity account in an attempt to evade paying income tax.
Williams filed fraudulent Missouri income tax returns for 2003 through 2005, asserting he made as much as $87,000 less than his actual income in a given year, the charges allege.
Williams, 65, was suspended Tuesday after the Post-Dispatch reported that district records show he diverted at least $85,000 extra to his retirement and insurance accounts.
On Thursday, the news got worse for Williams and the district when a state audit reported that the superintendent was overpaid by $158,400 during his tenure, and that the district had wastefully spent $12.4 million in the past three years.
In a masterpiece of understatement, the article states that, "Auditors chalked up the debacle to lack of oversight, improperly prepared budgets and poor planning."
The district has been on a steady slide for years, but the real temblors began rumbling when the state audit was released last week.
A scathing state audit revealed Thursday that the leaders of Riverview Gardens schools have bilked the district for hundreds of thousands of dollars. They've sent contracts and jobs to friends and family, spent money on artwork and theater tickets and travel, and left district bank reserves almost entirely empty.
In the wake of such evidence, the board announced that it had stripped Superintendent Henry Williams of his duties, sent him home and started the process to fire him. His hearing will be April 18.
Missouri Auditor Susan Montee said her team found problems in every aspect of district finances.
"What astounded us was how fast they misspent money, rather than how much," Montee said. "We found that so disheartening."
And, according to Superintendent Williams, it's all just a gross misunderstanding, and no doubt completely unfair, too:
The Riverview Gardens School District superintendent charged last week with felony theft and tax evasion portrayed himself on Monday as a victim of mistreatment. He questioned a state audit that found he had bilked the district of almost $160,000.
In his first public statement since the scandal broke last week, Henry Williams, 65, predicted that he would be vindicated.
"I am deeply saddened and utterly dismayed by my recent mistreatment by the Riverview Gardens School Board and the reverberations that their actions have had on government officials and the local media," he says in a faxed statement.
"Without question, this is certainly not the first time that sensational allegations have been levied against an individual, only later to be proven false when scrutinized and sanitized by the light of truth."
Apparently, Mr. Williams' contract
Riverview Gardens School Board members said Monday they are considering firing Superintendent Henry Williams, following revelations that Williams has directed an extra $85,000 in district money to his retirement and life insurance accounts.
Board President Gilda Hester emphasized that no decision has been made. The board, she said, has asked the district's lawyer, Cindy Ormsby, to prepare the necessary paperwork.
"The board has instructed her to let us know how this violates his contract, and options for the board to consider," Hester said.
If Ormsby recommends that the board fire Williams, "then we will act on her recommendation," Hester said.
Ormsby said the board has scheduled a closed meeting for Thursday, immediately following a public session at which State Auditor Susan Montee will present findings of an audit of district policies and finances, among other things.
The board could choose to fire Williams that night, members said.
But Hester said the board could make a decision earlier. A regular board meeting is set for 6:30 p.m. today.
Williams was not available to comment. He told staff and board members he was admitted to the hospital early Monday and would be out of the office until at least today. His attorney, Larry Deskins, said Williams had "an issue."
...Some board members said they welcomed the opportunity to remove him.
"I'm saying to them, this is what we need to right the ship," said board member Tommie Pierson, who said as many as 10 residents called him personally to discuss the payments.
Ormsby, the district's lawyer, said such revelations alone would not nullify Williams' contract. But if the board believes the allegations, it could fire him for cause, she said.
The board has tried to remove Williams before. Last May, the board suspended him after the Post-Dispatch revealed district payments to Williams' girlfriend. A shift in power brought him back a week later. Hester, Marlene Terry, Michael Person and Jennifer Erby voted in his favor.
Jim Morris, spokesman for the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, said Williams also could face discipline from the state.
The Riverview Gardens School Board could pass a resolution stating Williams is guilty of misconduct, and could request the state Board of Education take disciplinary action against his licenses, Morris said.
Williams holds certificates to be a superintendent and an elementary educator.
The state board would hold an administrative hearing, Morris said, at which the district would present its case, and Williams would defend himself.
Of course, this is the same board which voted to renew Mr. Williams' contract last year, so we'll just have to wait and see what actually happens. But during his tenure they have lost two-thirds of the points they had earned toward accreditation. That should have sent up flares somewhere.
And I am sure there are more lawsuits in the works.