News

Charles County Public School Employee Charged in Theft Scheme


Allegedly Stole Computers, Apple iPods, and other Technology Equipment Purchased Using Federal Funds Intended for the Needs of School Children

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 31, 2011

Greenbelt, Maryland - A criminal complaint was filed late yesterday charging Rhayda Barnes-Thomas, age 40, of Accokeek, Maryland, with theft concerning a federal government program and making false statements in connection with a scheme to use federal funds received by her school employer to buy technology items used for herself, her family and friends. Barnes-Thomas is scheduled to have an initial appearance today at 4:15 p.m. in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt before U.S. Magistrate Judge Jillyn K. Schulze.

The complaint was announced by United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein; Steven D. Anderson, Special Agent in Charge of the Mid-Atlantic Region of the Department of Education - Office of Inspector General; and Charles County Sheriff Rex Coffey.

The U.S. Department of Education provides federal funding, known as Title I grants, to public school districts with enrollment of low-income families to help ensure that all children meet appropriate academic standards. Typical uses of Title I funding include purchasing equipment for classroom education. According to the affidavit supporting the criminal complaint, since approximately 2006, Barnes-Thomas has been the Title I coordinator for the Charles County (Maryland) Public Schools (the County Schools), assigned to manage the County Schools’ Title I funding, including overseeing the purchases of technology equipment for use in classrooms paid for with federal funds.

According to the affidavit, in October 2010, school officials began investigating four missing Apple laptop computers belonging to the County Schools that had been purchased using Title I funds. Two of these computers had been taken without authorization by two school employees and subsequently recovered. However, two remained missing. A senior school official asked Barnes-Thomas whether she had ever purchased Apple laptops with Title I funds, and Barnes-Thomas denied ever doing so.

The affidavit alleges that on December 20, 2010, a box with the two remaining missing Apple laptop computers was found on the sidewalk adjacent to a County Schools building. The box had been placed there anonymously. Also inside the box was a newspaper article referencing the County Schools’ investigation of the missing laptop computers.

The affidavit further alleges that immediately thereafter, senior school officials performed an audit which revealed highly unusual purchases of technology equipment using Title I funds, including multiple Nintendo Wii video game consoles, Nintendo Wii games, Sony PlayStation 3 consoles, Apple products (including iPods, iPads, and Macbook computers) and televisions. Law enforcement agents subsequently discovered that documentation purporting to contain signatures of Barnes-Thomas’ supervisor approving these purchases had been forged. An internal audit by the County Schools allegedly revealed over 200 items at a cost of over $100,000 purchased with Title I funding that are presently unaccounted for. The vast majority of these items are alleged to have been purchased under Barnes-Thomas’ name.

According to the affidavit, in January and March 2011, law enforcement agents executed two search warrants at the residence of Barnes-Thomas and a third search warrant at the home of a family member. Agents seized multiple items purchased using Title I funds, including: an Apple MacBook Pro, two televisions, three Apple iPods, a Nintendo Wii game system and a GPS device. Additionally, a witness allegedly advised law enforcement that Barnes-Thomas provided multiple technology items as gifts to the witness and her children.

On March 11, 2011, Barnes-Thomas agreed to participate in a voluntary interview with law enforcement in which she allegedly denied that the Apple Macbook computer found with a family member was purchased with Title I funding. Barnes-Thomas also allegedly provided a receipt purporting to establish that she had legitimately purchased a television in November 2010 at a retail store in Waldorf, Maryland.

Barnes-Thomas faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison for theft; and a maximum sentence of five years in prison for making false statements.

A complaint is not a finding of guilt. An individual charged by complaint is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty at some later criminal proceedings.

United States Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein praised the Department of Education - OIG and the Charles County Sheriff’s Office for their work in the investigation. Mr. Rosenstein thanked Assistant United States Attorney Jonathan Su, who is prosecuting the case.

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