Ex-charter principal to serve year in prison: Rodriguez ordered to pay $145,480 in restitution

Noel Rodriguez

DOVER — Noel Rodriguez, the former principal of a Dover charter school, was sentenced to 13 months in prison and ordered to pay $145,480 in restitution.

U.S. District Court Judge Richard G. Andrews handed down the sentence Friday in Wilmington.

Rodriguez pleaded guilty to one count of federal program theft in November.

According to court records and statements made in open court, between 2011 and 2014, while serving as principal of the Academy of Dover, Rodriguez embezzled $145,480 from the school.

The Department of Justice said he made personal expenses to four unauthorized credit cards that he opened in the name of the school, abusing the voucher program, and using the charter-school issued procurement credit card for his own personal purchases.

Rodriguez used the embezzled funds to purchase camping equipment, electronics, personal travel, and home improvement items, among other things.

“Mr. Rodriguez betrayed the public trust by using his position as principal of the Academy of Dover to further his own interests,” said David C. Weiss, U.S. attorney for Delaware, in a prepared statement. “The sentence imposed today holds Mr. Rodriguez accountable for stealing $145,000 meant for the children and school he was hired to serve, and it should serve as a warning to others contemplating misappropriating public funds.”

The prosecution was the result of an investigation conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Department of Education — Office of the Inspector General, and the Delaware Attorney General’s Office, with assistance from the Delaware Office of Auditor of Accounts.

“Mr. Rodriguez defrauded America’s taxpayers and the children he promised to serve in a deliberate and methodical way,” said Geoffrey Wood, special agent in charge of the U.S. Department of Education Office of Inspector General Eastern Regional Office in the Department of Justice statement. “His sentence should serve as a warning to anyone who intentionally steals or misappropriates Federal education funds for their own selfish purpose: you will be caught and held accountable for your unlawful actions.”

In 2016, Rodriguez was indicted on four counts of federal program theft. Each count carried a possible sentence of up to 10 years in prison, along with fines and restitution, the Department of Justice said at the time.

A state of Delaware audit report said Rodriguez violated state policy when paying legal fees for sexual-harassment lawsuits and reimbursed employees for purchases, and provided teachers with bonuses and stipends “without adequate justification or board approval,” according to the U.S. attorney. An investigation by the Delaware Department of Education and Academy of Dover’s board of directors began after State Auditor Thomas Wagner received a tip in August 2014. Rodriguez resigned the next month at the board’s request.

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