Fraudulent Tutoring Programs Stole Nearly $1.275M from Detroit Public School Students

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Amid a severe debt crisis and teacher “sickout,” the Detroit Public School system is facing yet another case of alleged corruption.

According to The Detroit News, criminal charges were filed Monday against a former DPS director of grant development, who is accused of stealing nearly $1.275 million to fund fraudulent tutoring programs. Carolyn Starkey-Darden, 69, acquired the money through a scheme in which she submitted fake invoices for payment to DPS for tutoring services that were never offered to students, the publication reports.

Per MLive, Starkey-Darden’s indictment was prompted by the results of a two-year investigation into the matter by an FBI Detroit Area Corruption Task Force.

“Ms. Starkey-Darden cheated the students of Detroit Public Schools out of valuable resources by fraudulently billing for her company’€™s services,€” said David P. Gelios, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Detroit Division. “In fact, Detroit students were cheated twice by this scheme. Students that needed tutoring never received it, and money that could have been spent on other resources was paid to Ms. Starkey-Darden as part of her fraud scheme.”

The alleged scheme took place from 2005 to 2012, The Detroit News reports. During that time, the ex-director of grant development served as president of various companies she founded to provide supplemental education services to Michigan students, the news site states. Those companies include MI Learning Unlimited, Grants-N-Such, Dara Darden Educational Consultant, and others.

Prior to her October 2005 retirement, Starkey-Darden submitted articles of organization for one of the companies on July 20 and another on Nov. 2, two days after she retired, according to The Detroit News.

If convicted, she could face 10 years behind bars and $250,000 in fines.

“Everyone invested in the future of Detroit Public Schools should be outraged by the unlawful actions allegedly committed by this individual,” Detroit Public Schools Transition Manager Steven Rhodes said in a statement. “I will continue to work with U.S. Attorney McQuade, recently reinstated DPS Inspector General Bernadette Kakooza, and the dedicated, responsible and ethical employees of this school system to uncover this unacceptable behavior and bring the full force of the law against those who have the audacity to steal from our children.”

Per The Detroit News, a 39-page civil complaint was filed in June 2014 accusing Starkey-Darden of falsifying documents, submitting bogus test scores, drafting fraudulent lesson plans for students, forging parents’ signatures on monthly attendance reports, and filing exaggerated invoices for uncompleted services.

The government also uncovered hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash and assets that it will attempt to receive through forfeiture laws if the former DPS school official is found guilty, MLive reports.

According to the Detroit Free Press, Starkey-Darden’s conviction comes on the heels of a dozen or more DPS principals being charged with fraud for participating in a kickback scheme. The fraudulent activity involved a school supply vendor who charged DPS $2.7 million for supplies that were hardly ever delivered. Twelve of those defendants, including vendor Norman Shy, who is believed to be at the center of the scheme, have pleaded guilty to the charges, the publication reports.

“We hope that our work to uncover fraud in public school systems will deter others from stealing funds intended to educate children,” said U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade.

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