Provider Of Services For Special Needs Preschool Students Pleads Guilty In Manhattan Federal Court To Fraud Charge
Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced that CHEON PARK, owner and executive director of Bilingual SEIT, a government-funded provider of special education services and preschool programs to New York City preschool children, pled guilty today for his role in defrauding the federal, New York State, and New York City governments of millions of dollars. PARK pled guilty in Manhattan federal court before the U.S. District Judge J. Paul Oetken.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said: “Cheon Park has admitted his role in a criminal scheme to enrich himself by taking federal, state, and city funds intended for special needs children and diverting them for his own personal use. With today’s guilty plea, he now stands convicted of a federal crime and faces the prospect of a substantial prison term.”
According to the Information, an earlier Criminal Complaint, and statements made at court proceedings:
Between 2005 and 2012, PARK deliberately inflated both the amount of compensation Bilingual SEIT paid certain of its employees and contractors, and the type of work performed by certain employees on annual certified consolidated fiscal reports (“CFRs”) and financial statements submitted to the New York State Education Department (“NYSED”) and the New York City Department of Education (“NYCDOE”).
PARK owned and operated Bilingual SEIT from at least 2005 to 2012. During that time, Bilingual SEIT had a contract with the NYCDOE to provide publicly funded special education services and preschool programs to New York City schoolchildren aged three to five with physical, emotional, and/or developmental disabilities. Specifically, Bilingual SEIT received funding to provide: (1) special education itinerant teacher, commonly referred to as SEIT, services; (2) special education classes in a center-based setting for preschool students with special needs; (3) individual evaluations for preschool students with disabilities; and (4) physical, occupational, and/or speech therapy for preschool students who qualified for such services. As of September 2012, Bilingual SEIT operated out of five locations in Manhattan, Queens, and Brooklyn.
During the seven-year period that Bilingual SEIT was under contract with the NYCDOE, it claimed reimbursement for and received approximately $94.5 million in federal, New York State, and New York City funding to provide the services described above. In order to receive such money, on behalf of Bilingual SEIT, PARK was required to file a CFR supported by audited financial statements with the NYSED. The CFR and audited financial statements represented the costs that Bilingual SEIT had incurred the previous year and the justification for those costs, and included compensation Bilingual SEIT purported to pay its employees and contractors. Each year, PARK signed the certification pages for the CFRs filed with the NYSED, which relied on the CFR and audited financial statements in determining the amount of public funds to pay Bilingual SEIT per student for the services Bilingual SEIT provided to New York City preschool students.
Beginning in approximately June 2011, the New York State Comptroller’s office (the “Comptroller”) conducted an audit of Bilingual SEIT to determine whether the costs reported by Bilingual SEIT on the CFRs for the years July 2007 through 2009 were properly calculated, justified, and allowable under guidance issued by the NYSED. In July 2012, the Comptroller issued a report that concluded that nearly $1.5 million of the costs that PARK certified for the two-year audit period should have been disallowed, including money paid to 26 employees whose time and attendance could not be substantiated. As a result of the Comptroller’s report, the NYCDOE cancelled Bilingual SEIT’s classes and declined to renew its contract with Bilingual SEIT.
In fact, PARK engaged in several schemes designed to inflate the costs Bilingual SEIT represented it incurred, resulting in more public money for Bilingual SEIT, much of which, as set forth below, was kicked back to PARK. PARK fraudulently received funds from New York State and New York City to pay multiple individuals who performed little or no work for Bilingual SEIT. At PARK’s request and direction, these individuals then kicked back as much as 50% of the salary they fraudulently received from Bilingual SEIT to PARK. PARK also fraudulently received funds from New York State and New York City to deliberately overpay other individuals who worked for Bilingual SEIT. At PARK’s request and direction, these individuals also kicked back a portion of the overpayment to PARK on a regular basis.
Further, in addition to receiving kickbacks, PARK used Bilingual SEIT funds for his personal benefit in other ways. PARK arranged for Bilingual SEIT to pay his ex-wife and ex-sister-in-law for work they did not perform, and also arranged for Bilingual SEIT to pay for tutoring for PARK’s children and for a Bilingual SEIT employee to clean PARK’s home twice a week.
PARK, 46, of Manhasset, New York, pled guilty to one count of mail fraud, which carries a maximum term of 20 years in prison. He is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Oetken on July 29, 2014, at 2:00 p.m. The maximum potential sentence is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the judge.
Mr. Bharara praised the investigative work of the Office of the State Comptroller, the Special Commissioner of Investigation for New York City’s Department of Education, the Office of Inspector General for the United States Department of Education. He also thanked the Queens County District Attorney’s Office for its assistance.
This case is being prosecuted by the Office’s Public Corruption Unit. Assistant United States Attorneys Paul Krieger, Rebecca Ricigliano, and Martin Bell are in charge of the prosecution.