December 5, 2017: Statement of Facts for Leslie Lewis, Indictment #117075030
Statement of Facts for Leslie Lewis
Indictment # 117075030
On August 9, 2011, Leslie Lewis was appointed as the Principal of Baltimore Community High School (“BCHS”), with a starting base salary of $106,670.00.
When initially appointed as Principal, BCHS was operated by One Bright Ray, Inc., a charter school, which decided in the spring of 2013 not to seek a renewal of its contract. Beginning on July 1, 2013, Baltimore Community began its operations under the Baltimore City Public School system and Lewis remained as Principal during this period. Baltimore Community High School was located 6820 Fait Avenue in Baltimore City and was an alternative school for students who were over-age and under-credit.
On Tuesday, November 10, 2015, the Baltimore City School Board voted to permanently close Baltimore Community High School, effective June of 2016.
According to the Accounting Manual for School Activity Funds 2011 v. 1.0 Edition, “School Activity Funds are generated by non-instructional activities within a school, such as school stores, publications, social and athletic events. The term ‘school funds’ means all monies coming into and leaving the school’s possession excluding General Funds, Grand Funds and Cafeteria Funds.” The Internal Control Procedures of this Manual states that “the most important principle in establishing a sound system of internal controls is adequate segregation of duties, so that no one person controls all aspects of a transaction. The involvement of two or more persons in each transaction discourages dishonesty and encourages accuracy, because each person acts as a check and balance on the work performed. Proper segregation of duties should be established so that cash receipt, check disbursement, record-keeping, and reconciliation functions are not performed by the same individual. While the Principal may assign the daily operational process to a qualified employee, the ultimate responsibility lies with the Principal.”
The School Activity Funds Policy, as adopted on December 13, 2011 by the Baltimore City Board of School Commissioners, defines school activity funds as “all monies accepted by the school staff, faculty, and students that relate to or result from school activities. The term student activity funds is included under this definition of school activity funds.” Under the Prohibited Uses of School Activity Funds section of this policy, it states that “school activity funds may not be used for any personal matters, directly or indirectly,” that schools are prohibited from obtaining and using Debit/ATM cards,” and that “schools are prohibited from making any type of cash withdrawals, which includes over-the-counter withdrawals.”
On October 28, 2013, Lewis opened a business checking account at PNC Bank, held in the name of Baltimore City Public Schools dba Baltimore Community High School. As Principal, Lewis held a fiduciary duty to ensure that the school funds were used for their designated purpose. The account remained open through September 1, 2016, when it was closed by PNC Bank due to having a negative balance. During the entire period in which the account was open, Lewis was the sole signer on the account.
On July 21, 2014, Michael Heaney, a Senior Financial Analyst for the Baltimore City Public School system, asked Lewis in an email, “Do you have a School Activity Fund?” Lewis replied “No, I have a checking account; however, minimal money goes in or comes out. This year, that same account will be a school activity account that is why Mr. Torres will be attending SAF books training.”
Just over one year later, on August 10, 2015, Mr. Heaney, again asked Lewis in an email, “Do you have a school activity fund account? If you do, when was it opened?” Lewis replied “I have an account; but it is not for school activities.”
A review of the records for the PNC account held in the name of Baltimore Community High School during the period from October 28, 2013 through September 1, 2016, reflects that the total amount of funds deposited into the account by Lewis was $20,694.66. Included in that total are deposits of checks and money orders of $10,764.18 and cash deposits of $9,930.48.
Included in the check and money order deposits are eight (8) checks which contain memo line notations which reference “uniforms”. Also included are checks and/or money orders which contain memo line notations which reference “dues”, “graduation” and “prom ticket”.
In a letter from Principal Lewis to “parents, guardians and students” dated September 25, 2015, Lewis writes in part: “Enclosed in this packet you will find a sketch of activities that have been planned for the classes, as well as the fee structure for class dues. As a continuation from last school year, we will continue to award our students for their academic performance. Students who pass ALL portions of the graduation exams will continue to be exempt from class paying dues. That’s correct; if your child passes ALL portions of each examination, they will not have to pay senior dues.”
Included with this letter was a document titled “Senior Class Information” which reflected that for the Class of 2016, Senior Dues, if paid by January 31, 2016 were $350.00. If paid after January 31, 2016, dues were $400.00. Additionally, the document reflects that the graduation fee is $200.00, with a notation that the graduation fee is included in senior dues, and students who are not paying dues and would like to participate in graduation and farewells must pay this fee. An initial payment of $75.00 is due by October 15th, a fee which must be paid in order to participate in Senior Inauguration.
According to the document, senior class dues included the following: Two prom tickets, Senior Inauguration, Senior Farewell, Graduation (Including 10 tickets and cap and gown), Senior Class Trip, Senior Memory Book, Operation Graduation Shirt, Upperclassmen Shirt, and Additional Senior Appreciation Items. According to the document, the Graduation Fee included the following: Cap and Gown,10 Tickets to Graduation, Graduation Announcements, Senior Graduation Gift, and Operation Graduation T-Shirt.
On March 23, 2015, Linda Stokes, a guidance counselor at BCHS, sent an email with the subject “Graduation Tracking.” Attached to the email was a spreadsheet titled “Graduation Tracker 2015” which identified 93 seniors at Baltimore Community High School and reflected the status of their credits and High School Assessment (HSA) examinations.
On May 12, 2015, Stokes sent another email with the subject “graduation tracking 2015”. Attached to the email was a spreadsheet titled “Graduation Tracker 2015 2” which now identified 98 seniors at Baltimore Community High School. Also added into this version of the Graduation Tracker was a column titled “Dues Paid” which reflects that one student was exempt from dues as a result of passing all of the HSA’s, and 15 students paid their dues in full. Additionally, 11 other students had notations which reflect the amount of partial dues paid. Using an annual dues amount of $350.00 per student, the total of dues received from the 15 students who paid in full equals $5,250.00. The total amount of the partial dues payments received as reflected on the graduation tracker spreadsheet was $1,610.00, bringing the total amount in dues paid to $7,090.00.
Ms. Stokes provided a written statement to Baltimore City Schools Staff Investigator James Barr on July 7, 2016. In her statement, Stokes wrote “Ms. Lewis would make the families pay 400-250 for class dues or to be a part of the graduation. Told them they couldn’t participate if it was not paid or get their diploma.”
Stephen Dixon, a former educational associate at BCHS was present at several certification meetings with students and parents where the graduation requirements were reviewed prior to graduation. During an interview with Office of the State Prosecutor investigators, Dixon advised that he witnessed Lewis inform parents of the need to pay the dues in order for a student to graduate. Dixon added that Lewis seemed to choose various amounts of monies owed by students at random, without consulting a list or any records. During these meetings parents would hand cash to Lewis, which Dixon witnessed Lewis place in envelopes on the table.
During email communication with Investigator Barr, Dana Campbell, the Registrar at BCHS advised him that she was instructed not to release diplomas to students who had not paid their full dues. When asked who instructed her not to release the diplomas, Campbell, in a September 2, 2016 email wrote “Ms. Lewis advised me not to do it. Any time a parent or child came I was suppose [sic] to check the list of names that hadn’t paid and tell the[sic] I couldn’t give it to them until the paid full amount”.
Uniforms at BHCS were available for purchase only through the school store, which was staffed by school employees, including Laura Rabara, Pablo Torres, and Francess Turay.
If called to testify, Rabara, Torres, and Turay would all testify that they sold uniforms at the school store, and turned over all monies received to Lewis. Turay would testify that during a period over the summer of 2014, the school store would bring in between $450 and $500 in cash at least two or three days per week. When she collected more than $250 to $300 at any given time Turay would hand the cash directly to Lewis. Turay would also testify that she sold snacks at the school store, which brought in about $150-200 per week in cash and that she would turn that cash directly over to Lewis as well. Turay would also testify that she heard Lewis make comments about taking the money to the bank.
Rabara would testify that she turned the money over to Lewis as well and also heard her make comments about taking the money to the bank.
Torres would testify that he would turn the money over to Lewis and that Lewis on occasion asked him to go to the bank, however he refused, as he was not a signer on the account.
A review of the records reflects that Lewis used the ATM/Debit card associated with the PNC account to make forty-nine (49) ATM withdrawals for a total of $9,659.35 and four (4) point of sale purchases for $2,909.80 at the Maryland Live Casino in Hanover, Maryland. Lewis also made three (3) cash withdrawals from the PNC account for a total of $650.00. The total unauthorized withdrawals made by Lewis from the PNC account equals $13,490.28.[i]
A review of Lewis’ personal checking account held at Educational Systems Federal Credit Union reflects that at the time of forty-eight (48) of the forty-nine (49) ATM withdrawals made by Lewis from the PNC account, the balance in Lewis’ personal checking account was either negative or was not sufficient to cover the amount of funds withdrawn from the PNC account. Additionally, at the time of the three (3) cash withdrawals and the four (4) point of sale purchases made by Lewis, the balance in her personal checking account was either negative or was not sufficient to cover the amount of funds withdrawn from the PNC account.
Eighteen (18) ATM withdrawals from the PNC account were made by Lewis at an ATM with an address of 7000 Arundel Mills, Hanover, Maryland. It should be noted that the address of the Maryland Live Casino at Arundel Mills in Hanover, Maryland is 7002 Arundel Mills Circle. It should be further noted that three (3) of the ATM withdrawals from the ATM with the address of 7000 Arundel Mills occurred on the same date as three of the point of sale purchases made by Lewis at Maryland Live in Hanover Maryland.
Fourteen (14) ATM withdrawals from the PNC account were made by Lewis at an ATM with an address of 1525 Russell Street. It should be noted that 1525 Russell Street corresponds with the address of the Horseshoe Casino in Baltimore, Maryland.
Additionally, seven (7) of the ATM withdrawals either made at 7000 Arundel Mills or 1525 Russell Street, correspond with dates that Lewis also made ATM withdrawals from her personal checking account from either the Horseshoe Casino in Baltimore or Maryland Live Casino at Arundel Mills.
Records obtained from the Maryland Live Casino reflect that during a period from December 31, 2013 through April 9, 2016, Lewis visited Maryland Live Casino on at least eighty-three (83) occasions, playing at least $549,002.86 with a net loss of -$62,183.12.
Records obtained from the Baltimore Horseshoe Casino reflect that during a period from July 29, 2015 through July 21, 2016, Lewis visited the Horseshoe Casino on at least sixty-three (63) occasions, playing at least $52,400.00 with a net loss of -$10,740.00.
The total net loss by Lewis on the one hundred forty-six (146) casino visits equals -$72,923.12.
The total theft by Leslie Lewis from the PNC account for Baltimore Community High School was $13,490.28. If called to testify, all witnesses would identify Leslie Lewis and all events occurred in Baltimore City, Maryland.
[i] The Defense contends that the actual theft of cash is around $11,000.00, however both the State and the Defense agree that the theft is over $10,000.00 and the number will be determined at a restitution hearing, to be held on a later date in time.