Teachers in NY dropout program fudged their timecards, feds say. They owe $31,000

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Two teachers working in a high school dropout prevention program in New York fudged their timecards by overreporting how much they worked, federal authorities said.

The Syracuse City School District teachers are accused of submitting fake time cards to get paid after “habitually” leaving the Twilight Program at Henninger High School early, according to a May 25 news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of New York.

The program is “intended to benefit at-risk high schoolers.”

As a result, Jason Cecile and Nicole Murray owe the U.S. more than $31,000 after agreeing to “resolve the allegations” made against them that were “triggered in part by a whistleblower lawsuit,” according to prosecutors.

“These individuals shamelessly stole from the very students they were supposed to be helping,” U.S. Attorney Carla B. Freedman said in a statement.

Cecile, who was in charge of running the program from 2016-2018, previously pleaded guilty to corrupting the government in relation to “submitting false timecards” in Onondaga County Court on May 6, according to the Office of the New York State Comptroller. Cecile also resigned from the school district.

Meanwhile, Murray, who taught for the program, is on administrative leave until the end of the 2022 school year, the district’s administrator for communications, Michael Henesey, told McClatchy News in a statement. She previously pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct in Onondaga County, prosecutors said.

Attorney contact information for Cecile and Murray was not immediately available.

Between 2015 and 2016, the school district received federal grants from the U.S. Department of Education to run the after-school Twilight Program so students at risk of not graduating due to a lack of credits could attend extra classes, the news release said.

With Cecile in charge, he told “certain Twilight staff members to claim hours on their timecard based on the amount of money that was available in the Twilight budget, not on the number of hours they worked,” according to prosecutors.

He admitted to leaving the program early on numerous occasions and faking his timecards, the release said.

“Murray admitted that she taught one Twilight class, and generally left Henninger at 5:00 p.m., but submitted timecards attesting that she worked until 6:00 p.m., 6:30 p.m., or 7:00 p.m.,” according to prosecutors.

Cecile has agreed to pay more than $20,000 in restitution and Murray agreed to pay more than $11,000, the release said.

In a statement provided to McClatchy News, the district said it “takes fraud and the misuse of taxpayer funds seriously” and that it “will continue to pursue individuals who attempt to utilize district and student resources for their own benefit.”

Syracuse is roughly 145 miles west of Albany.

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