Former Charles County Public Schools employee and Accokeek resident Rhayda Barnes-Thomas was sentenced to 27 months in prison on Dec. 20 after she pleaded guilty to using federal funds to purchase electronic items for herself.

The thefts began when the 41-year-old Barnes-Thomas was placed in charge of Title I grants that provide federal funding to public school systems with enrollments of low-income families to make sure all students meet basic academic standards.

Between 2009 and Jan. 2011, Barnes-Thomas allegedly abused her position by stealing more than $5,000 worth of property purchased using the funds. She admittedly purchased several Nintendo Wii game consoles with accompanying games, Sony PlayStation 3 consoles, iPods, iPads, MacBook computers and televisions.

Barnes-Thomas then apparently sought to make a profit on the items she’d fraudulently purchased. On June 21, 2010, she sold an illegally purchased iPad to her hairdresser for $200 while another iPad she had purchased was given to her daughter, who sold it for $100.

The investigation into the missing equipment began in 2010 when CCPS officials became suspicious of missing computers.

“In or about Oct. 2010, CCPS officials began investigating four missing Apple laptop computers belonging to CCPS that had been purchased using Title I funds,” said Special Agent Nathan A. Marceca of the Department of Education’s Office of the Inspector General, in an affidavit. “Two of these computers had been taken without authorization by two employees of CCPS and subsequently recovered. However, two remained missing.”

CCPS officials asked Barnes-Thomas then whether or not she had purchased the computers using Title I funds, but she denied it. However, CCPS officials kept digging when a box with the two remaining computers was found on the sidewalk outside a CCPS building. That’s when officials began to see just how far Barnes-Thomas had gone with the funds.

“An internal audit by CCPS has revealed over 200 items purchased with Title I funding (at a cost of over $100,000) that is presently unaccounted for,” Marceca continued. The vast majority of these items were purchased under Barnes-Thomas’ name.

As a result of the audit, law enforcement conducted searches of Barnes-Thomas’ home and her daughter’s apartment where they recovered two purchased TV’s, three iPods, a MacBook Pro, a GPS device, a Nintendo Wii and a Nintendo DS.

On March 11 of this year, Barnes-Thomas then voluntarily came in for an interview where authorities say she lied repeatedly about the purchase of the MacBook found at her daughter’s apartment and a television found at her residence. She said the purchase of the MacBook was a joint gift by her and her parents to her daughter and then produced a fraudulent receipt for the purchase of the television from a retail store in Waldorf. Thirteen days later, in another voluntary interview, she told investigators that she’d lied in the previous interview and that she’d kept several items that she knew didn’t belong to her.

In addition to her sentence, Barnes-Thomas was ordered to pay restitution of more than $115,000.


George Barnette

Special to the AFRO