A former McKinley Technology High School teacher was charged with second-degree theft on Thursday in connection with a $100,000 grant that D.C. school officials say vanished. Rick Kelsey was the director of STEM -- science, math, engineering and technology -- at McKinley when the national AARP awarded the Northeast high school $100,000 for its efforts to help senior citizens use the Internet in 2008.
Police records show that Kelsey was arrested at 10 a.m., charged, and was held overnight. Sources close to the D.C. Public Schools investigation say the charge relates to the AARP grant, which staff planned to use to further students' assistance to senior citizens. The school system has been investigating the funds for more than a month.
A spokeswoman for the school system said that "at this stage, all we can say is that it's an ongoing investigation."
Kelsey's wife, Debbie, said her husband was given use of $60,000 of the grant, but that he has photos of the approximately $35,000 motorcoach he purchased, outfitted with computers, and used to take McKinley students to work with senior citizens. Debbie says her husband submitted bills for expenditures to the school system, which were paid.
"They did lots of different things" to help the students and senior citizens, she said. "He's innocent."
Sources close to the probe say the schools investigator is looking into whether or not Principal David Pinder had any role in the misuse of funds.
One former McKinley teacher said he has been questioned multiple times by Eastern Stewart, the schools' investigator. That former teacher said Stewart called the case "the biggest case of fraud, waste, and abuse that he's ever seen."
When reached by
The Washington Examiner, Pinder said, "I don't think it's appropriate to comment when an inquiry is going on, but I am confident the inquiry will reflect that the money was spent appropriately." Stewart also declined to comment on the ongoing investigation.
Thomas Ammazzalorso, who wrote the grant application as a McKinley teacher, said Stewart asked him about "furniture purchases, dinners and trips people took" on Tuesday during a 90-minute interrogation on Tuesday at Coolidge Senior High School, where Ammazzalorso now teaches. Ammazzalorso said Stewart also questioned him on Nov. 23.
"I can't believe it wasn't spent on the kids," Ammazzalorso said. "We could've taken them on college tours. We could've gotten them all Netbooks. There are so many things we could've done."
He said that he didn't believe long-time friend Kelsey was guilty of wrongdoing. "Rick Kelsey had no ability to move any money, to spend any money ..." he said.
AARP spokeswoman Elly Spinweber said that because the Ethel Percy Andrus Award recognized "previous successes," the organization did not mandate or monitor the money after it was given to McKinley. "It would be incredibly disappointing - especially for the students, seniors and communities who would have benefited from the award dollars - to find out that any recipient abused or misused the funds," she said.
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