Erica L. Green, Baltimore Sun, April 10, 2014
The principal of a celebrated Baltimore high school has pleaded guilty to defrauding the federal government of nearly $2 million he received in a previous job to feed disadvantaged children, but used instead for other purposes, including leasing luxury cars and buying jewelry.
Between 2007 and 2010, federal prosecutors say, Frederick Douglass High School principal Antonio Hurt submitted documents to a federal program in which he intentionally misstated the number of children and meals eligible for reimbursement in day care centers he owned and operated in Georgia.
Hurt, who has been credited with turning around the long-troubled high school with the help of a multimillion-dollar grant from the U.S. Department of Education, pleaded guilty Wednesday in a U.S. District Court in Georgia to a single count of federal program fraud.
Hurt, who was appointed to lead Douglass in 2011, faces up to five years in prison. His sentencing is scheduled for June 18.
“This critically important program provides basic sustenance for those most in need,” Sally Quillian Yates, the U.S. attorney for northern Georgia, said in a statement. “Instead of paying for school day nutrition, he used the money to expand his day care business, lease luxury cars, buy jewelry, and pay for other personal expenses.”
The Baltimore school system said Thursday that it had accepted Hurt’s resignation. Officials said they were auditing all activity at Frederick Douglass for any red flags.
Hurt was hired to lead the school at a salary of $136,981.
At Frederick Douglass, Hurt was responsible for at least $4.2 million in federal school improvement grants, which are awarded by the U.S. Department of Education to help struggling schools implement reforms.
Hurt, 38, was CEO of Bright Star Early Learning Center, which owned and operated day care centers in metropolitan Atlanta and elsewhere in Georgia. He also served as a principal in Georgia.
Prosecutors say Hurt initiated an elaborate scheme to defraud the federal government in 2006.
That year, they said in a release, he arranged for the Bright Star day care centers to participate in the Child & Adult Care Food Program, a U.S. Department of Agriculture program established under the National School Lunch Act of 1964.
The federal program partially reimburses day care centers for the cost of serving breakfast, lunch and snacks to low-income children.
From October 2007 through January 2010, prosecutors said, Hurt filed millions of dollars in reimbursement claims to the CACFP program in which he “intentionally misstated the number of eligible students, meals, and other information.”
“As a result, the [Georgia] Department of Early Care & Learning issued fraudulently inflated reimbursement funds to an account that Hurt controlled,” prosecutors said. “Hurt then issued the expected payments to the unsuspecting day care centers, and retained the fraudulently inflated portion for himself, amounting to approximately $1.9 million over a two-year period.”
They said he used the money to expand and fund the operation of his day care business, obtaining multimillion-dollar acquisition and development loans to build new day care centers, and “to live beyond his means.”