Pigs At The Trough:
Living Large on Taxpayers' Money
Top Roslyn school officials and their friends and family siphoned off more than $11 million of district money in an elaborate scheme involving far more people and far more extravagant spending than had been suspected, a state report has found. Those implicated allegedly made mortgage payments on six different homes -- including two in Florida -- paid off personal loans, bankrolled vacations to the Caribbean, leased luxury cars and shelled out thousands of dollars at Tiffany's, Nordstrom's, Sharper Image, Coach and Rolex.
This has been going on for some time - grand larceny indictments of the former superintendent, the former business manager and a former clerk were all handed down previously; all pled not guilty- but it's only now, with the release of the audit report (pdf), that we are seeing the full scope of what went on in the Roslyn School District. Up to 26 people may be implicated when all is said and done. That's 26 people who took part in the systematic plundering of money that was supposed to be used within the school district. How many textbooks, how much lab equipment, musical instruments, playground equipment or supplies weren't bought because the budget wouldn't allow it? Because 11 million dollars was allocated for tropical vacations and four star restaurants?
[The auditors came to Long Island from across the state, accountants turned detectives on a case where much of the evidence was destroyed or missing. They fleshed out what authorities describe as a decade-long conspiracy of misspending that netted district officials and at least 10 of their relatives a staggering $11.2 million.
"Normally when you do a fraud audit the well runs dry," Hart said, but in Roslyn, "it never stopped for us.""It was an orgy of spending," he added. "It just went on and on and on."
That's a list of misused funds [click for bigger]. Almost $600,000 on food. $609,000 at Home Depot, presumably for supplies for all the houses they were using district funds to pay for.
Those implicated allegedly made mortgage payments on six different homes -- including two in Florida -- paid off personal loans, bankrolled vacations to the Caribbean, leased luxury cars and shelled out thousands of dollars at Tiffany's, Nordstrom's, Sharper Image, Coach and Rolex.
It started with three employees misusing credit cards. Those three people then handed out credit cards to friends and family. Spreading the wealth, as it were. Somebody else's wealth. These people involved their children - giving them cash to pay off student loans and buy cars.
How they got away with it for so long is another story. It was a combination of the corruption running very deep and school officials who just did not do their job.
Taxpayers were cheated. Kids went without. And all the while, these pigs were living a life of largesse, taking vacations, building homes and buying luxury items while honest people worked their asses off in order to pay their school taxes (which are pretty damn high on Long Island - school property taxes for homeowners in Roslyn average $9,700 a year. In four years, the district's tax levy rose by 50 percent, to $69 million in 2004 from $46 million in 2000 [source]). And most of those hardworking people have children that they sent to Roslyn schools, expecting that their tax money would provide their children with the necessary supplies, equipment and staff for a good education. All the while, a gang of greedy grubbers was taking 11 million dollars worth of that money and pissing it away on themselves and showering their families with Playstations, printers and iPods.
Since I happen to live in Roslyn, I have calculated that the sum total of my school taxes during recent years has gone to pay for the school finance director's pet food ($14,000), the school superintendent's airfare to London on the Concorde jet ($10,796), and for pocket money that various school district employees had withdrawn from ATMs using Roslyn school district credit cards.
In some cases these withdrawals averaged $30,000 a month, according to a breathtaking audit released yesterday by State Comptroller Alan Hevesi.Or maybe I paid for former Superintendent Frank Tassone's parking garage bill in Manhattan. That bill, charged to me, came to $42,000.
The thieves include the former superintendent of schools; someone who was entrusted with a position that affects every single child in the school district. The people of Roslyn were raped, and you can bet every last Rolex watch bought with stolen money that Roslyn is not the only school district where something like this is going on. In fact, I heard on the radio today (and I stole the title of this post from the radio show) that other Long Island disctricts will be audited soon.
The audit - which is fascinating reading - makes 27 recommendations to correct the internal workings of the school district. Too late for Roslyn taxpayers, however. And that's what bugs me the most. If I were a Roslyn taxpayer (and as a fellow Long Islander I'm sorely tempted to organize a sympathy rampage), I'd be out there with pitchforks and torches hunting these monsters down. Like the morning guys on WBAB said, bring back public flogging. Frank Tassone and Pamela Glucker - and everyone who knowingly took their stolen dollars and gifts - deserve it.