Tuesday, January 31, 2006

How Crooked Long Island School Administrators Hurt Kids

Officials at several Long Island, New York school districts seem to have real problem keeping their hands out of the public till:
Two former top administrators at the William Floyd School District have pleaded guilty to stealing nearly $1.5 million between them.

The admissions are the latest revelations of theft from Long Island school treasuries in percolating scandals that have prompted an audit of dozens of districts by state Comptroller Alan Hevesi.

In the most blatant example of thievery to date, six people associated with the Roslyn school district in Nassau County were charged with stealing more than $7 million from district coffers over a period of years.

In neighboring Suffolk County on Monday, Daniel Cifonelli, the former William Floyd assistant superintendent for business, pleaded guilty to five counts of grand larceny and two counts of money laundering.

He admitted stealing more than $687,000 from the district and the state retirement system, and from various district bank and insurance accounts.

Cifonelli, who retired in 1998, continued to work as a district consultant until 2003. The prosecutors' investigation found no evidence of retirement papers being filed or an application for a waiver from the state that would allow him to collect retirement benefits and a district paycheck simultaneously.

"He held a position of trust," prosecutor Maureen MacCormack said of Cifonelli. "This was not a situation where he was stealing to put food on the table. This was plain avarice."

The district's former treasurer, James Wright, pleaded guilty to one count of grand larceny and seven counts of filing a false instrument. He admitted stealing $777,145 from the district by writing checks to himself.

Both Cifonelli, 71, and Wright, 57, face two to six years in prison when they are sentenced, Cifonelli on April 3 and Wright on April 19. Cifonelli has so far repaid about $100,000 and Wright has given back $500,000, prosecutors said.

Also Monday, William Floyd's current assistant superintendent for business, Dennis Fidotta, and Michael Schildkraut, a retired assistant superintendent for personnel and administration, pleaded not guilty to a charge of filing a false instrument and official misconduct.

Prosecutors said the men, who both were released without bail, faked documents to hire Schildkraut's daughter-in-law in the business office.

The William Floyd School District is located on the south shore of Long Island, approximately 60 miles east of New York City. Its enrollment is approximately 11,000 students.

Hevesi's office estimated as much as $11.2 was missing from the Roslyn treasury, but could only link about $7 million to the accused thieves. Five of the six have pleaded guilty, including the former superintendent of schools and the district's independent auditor.
I believe that there should be a special type of punishment hell reserved for public employees and politicians who steal from kids.

But I think that these thieves are going to receive anything like the punishment they deserve. Our long-time friend Tony Iovino, who lives nearby, had this to say about the Roslyn Scandal:
Here on Long Island the Roslyn school scandal is starting to wind down. This is the case where over $11 million dollars was stolen by the Superintendent, the Business manager, etc.

Most of the culprits in this juicy scandal have pled guilty-- the sentencing is starting.

Unfortunately, the now-former DA pled the cases down to ridiculously low charges; indeed, that may have been the key reason the 30-year incumbent lost the November election.

The first sentence, that of an accountant who helped cover up the crime, was pathetically short-- 4 months.

Now this guy didn't steal any money, but the others did and their sentences will also be relatively short. Horrible. These criminals not only stole from the kids in their district, but they've made it harder for other districts to pass budgets.

I don't believe in leniency for so-called white collar crime. They should be stripped of all assets, rendered with fines and restitution that will keep them poor forever, and sentenced to long prison terms.

And I think that goes for every thief, embezzler, stock fraud artist, etc. People who don't play by the rules shouldn't be allowed to profit from their actions.
We agree with Tony's assessment and his sentiment. Stripping these peculators of their assets would certainly send an unmistakable message to others who would steal from children.

But that's probably not going to happen in today's criminal justice system in which the well-to-do are afforded special treatment even while incarcerated.

In all likelyhood, these malefactors will be sent to some sort of minimum-security facility for white-collar criminals that will be similar to the "Club Fed" that hosted convicted felon Martha Stewart.
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