Antonio T. Hurt, Frederick Douglass High School principal who made national headlines for a dramatic turnaround of the drop-out and suspension-plagued West Baltimore school, pleaded guilty April 10 to stealing nearly $2 million in federal money intended for breakfast and lunch for poor children.
Hurt, 38, resigned from Douglass after admitting in U.S. District Court in Atlanta, that he submitted inflated claims for U.S. Department of Agriculture money under the National School Lunch Act of 1964, steered some money to a network of daycare centers he operated in Atlanta and pocketed the rest, according to the U.S. Attorney for the Atlanta district.
“Instead of paying for school day nutrition, he used the money to expand his daycare business, lease luxury cars, buy jewelry, and pay for other personal expenses,” U.S. Attorney Sally Quillian Yates said in a Justice Department statement.
Baltimore City schools officials said Patricia Hunter, one of three Douglass assistant principals, will oversee daily operations at the school. An interim principal for the 2014-2015 school year is to be named by July 1, a Baltimore City Public Schools (BCPS) statement said April 10.
Prosecutors and FBI agents said the fraud occurred between 2007 and 2010, when Hurt, as CEO of Bright Star Early Learning Center, sought federal money to reimburse Bright Star for the cost of meals at several daycare centers.
“Hurt’s reimbursement claims intentionally misstated the number of eligible students, meals, and other information,” the Justice Deaprtment statement said.
As a result, investigators said they found, Georgia’s Department of Early Care & Learning, which disburses the money, “issued fraudulently inflated reimbursement funds to an account that Hurt controlled.”
Hurt, who was a high school principal in the Atlanta, moved to Baltimore to take over at Douglass, where the school’s low academic success rate, crumbling infrastructure and other problems were cited in an HBO documentary.
He is now awaiting sentencing, scheduled for June 18, by a federal judge.