Fraudulent Tutoring Program Grifts $1.2mil from Detroit Schools

(Photo: Wikimedia, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Wikimedia, Creative Commons)

A former Detroit Public Schools director is being accused of stealing $1.2 million from the district after receiving the money in return for tutoring services which were never actually offered to students.

The charging document states that Carolyn Starkey Darden, 69, of Detroit stole the money between 2005 and 2012.  In her role as Grant Director, she had been in charge of establishing supplemental educational services to eligible students.  The indictment is the result of an FBI Detroit Area Corruption Task Force investigation that began more than two years ago.

“Ms. Starkey-Darden cheated the students of Detroit Public Schools out of valuable resources by fraudulently billing for her company’s services,” said David P. Gelios, Special Agent in Charge, FBI Detroit Division. “In fact, Detroit students were cheated twice by this scheme. Students that needed tutoring never received it, and money that could have been spent on other resources was paid to Ms. Starkey-Darden as part of her fraud scheme.”

U.S. Attorney Barbara L. McQuade’s office states that Starkey Darden left the district after close to 40 years in 2005.  At that time, it is believed she had created several after-school and tutoring entities that billed and were then paid at least $1.275 million for services that were never offered to students.

Multiple bank accounts taken out in the name of Starkey Darden and her husband, Anthony Darden, were seized by the FBI in 2014 after they an investigation into their tutoring business that launched in 2011.  In all, hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash and assets were identified by the government that it plans to seize through forfeiture laws if she is proven guilty.

DPS Transition Manager Judge Steven Rhodes noted that Starkey Darden is being accused of stealing $1.2 million from the district, which he added could have been used for instructional resources for classrooms, reports Halston Herrera for ClickOnDetroit.

“Everyone invested in the future of Detroit Public Schools should be outraged by the unlawful actions allegedly committed by this individual,” said Rhodes, in a statement out Monday afternoon.

He went on to say that he would be working with U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade, recently reinstated DPS Inspector General Bernadette Kakooza, and school system employees to “bring the full force of the law against those who have the audacity to steal from our children.”

Starkey Darden faces up to 10 years in prison if she is convicted of the charge of federal program theft, as well as fines totaling up to $250,000.

In a separate federal investigation, at least a dozen teachers were found to have been taking bribes and kickbacks for their roles in offering contracts and fraudulent payments to a school supply company operated by 74-year-old Norman Fry, a former DPS school supply vendor, writes Gus Burns for MLive.

Some of the teachers, as well as Fry, have already pleaded guilty.

“The District will remain vigilant in the review and application of its procurement policies and procedures, and make changes as appropriate and necessary as it did recently, to help prevent further fraud,” Rhodes said.