Former Academy of Dover principal pleads guilty in fraud case

 

WILMINGTON — A former Dover charter school principal could serve up to 10 years in prison after pleading guilty to federal program theft regarding an embezzlement investigation that started in 2014.

Noel Rodriguez, 56, was charged with embezzling $145,480 from the Academy of Dover in a three-year-period beginning in July 2011. He is scheduled to be sentenced March 30, 2018, and could also receive three years of supervised release and a $250,000 fine.

David C. Weiss, acting attorney for the District of Delaware, announced the conviction in a news release Monday and outlined the allegations against Rodriguez through court documents and statements made in open court:

•He charged personal expenses to four unauthorized credit cards he opened in the name of the school.

•Rodriguez also abused the state of Delaware’s voucher program, by which charter schools are permitted to submit qualified expenses for reimbursement, and the state of Delaware’s procurement card system, by which the state of Delaware issues credit cards to charter school administrators to purchase necessary school supplies.

•Rodriguez used the embezzled money for personal expenses such as electronics, gardening and camping equipment, automobile costs, a dog house, personal travel and home improvement items.

The case was prosecuted at the federal level due to the significant funding received by the Academy of Dover.

Noel Rodriguez

“Mr. Rodriguez stole from the school he was entrusted to run,” Mr. Weiss said. “He is being held accountable for his betrayal of the public trust, and his case should serve as a warning to others contemplating misappropriating public funds.”

According to Geoffrey Wood, Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. Department of Education Office of the Inspector General’s Eastern Region, “Mr. Rodriguez knowingly and willfully abused his position of trust to steal education funds that were supposed to be used to provide services for the most innocent of victims — school children.

“That is unacceptable,

“I’m proud of the work of OIG Special Agents and our law enforcement colleagues for holding Mr. Rodriguez accountable for his fraudulent actions.”

The investigation was conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the United States 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.

Assistant United States Attorney Elizabeth L. Van Pelt prosecuted the case.

Rodriguez earlier faced up to 40 years in prison when indicted on four counts of federal program theft.

A state of Delaware audit report alleged that Mr. 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 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.

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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