Former Delaware school principal indicted

A state audit accused Noel Rodriguez of spending thousands of dollars in school money on personal items

A state audit accused Noel Rodriguez of spending thousands of dollars in school money on personal items

A former Delaware principal has been indicted for allegedly embezzling at least $5,000 between 2011 and 2014.

Noel Rodriguez, 55, a former principal at the Academy of Dover Charter School in Dover, faces four counts of federal program theft, according to a Thursday announcement from Charles M. Oberly, III, U.S. Attorney for the District of Delaware.

While employed as a school principal Rodriguez allegedly embezzled at least $5,000 of the school’s money or property. The indictment states during that time the school received yearly federal funding in excess of $10,000 from the U.S. Department of Education. 

Rodriguez faces up to 10 years in prison and three years of supervised release, in addition to possible fines and restitution if found guilty of the federal charges.

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Last year, an audit report found the former principal spent more than $127,000 of the school’s finances for his personal use between 2011 and 2014.

The Office of Auditor of Accounts was tipped off about Rodriguez’s alleged misconduct in 2014. The Department of Education and the school’s board of directors also noticed irregularities at the school, according to an audit.

The audit of the school’s finances found Rodriguez, who left the school in the fall of 2014, allegedly made $127,866 in personal purchases, which paid for legal fees for lawsuits, including a sexual harassment case, and teachers’ stipends and bonuses without board approval.

Rodriguez allegedly spent the money lavishly—on anything from camping, to Christmas décor, to household items, to entertainment.

The audit also included images of his former office, where he displayed figurines purchased with school funds.

“Displaying such items at the school demonstrates a flagrant disregard for the trust invested in his position, and sets a culture ripe for abuse,” the audit states.

The State Auditor’s office also said it could not account for an additional $129,458, and that Rodriguez’s financial abuses likely predated the period under investigation.

The audit reports the alleged misuse of school funds occurred without any oversight body and no mention of any issues by the CPA firm contracted by the school to perform the financial statement and single audits.

“Overall, a lack of oversight and a complete disregard for internal controls provided the opportunity for significant misuse of school funds,” the report states.

The audit also reports Rodriquez was referred to as a “bully” and “manipulator” with a “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” personality, and “used his position of authority to run school operations as he saw fit.”

After completing the audit, it was sent to state and federal authorities. When the auditor’s office informed Rodriguez of its investigation, he returned more than $5,000 worth of goods, including a washer, dryer, camera, scanner and lawn mower. 

Academy of Dover is not the first school in Delaware to face an embezzlement case.

“Unfortunately they are a little more common than I would like,” said State Auditor Thomas Wagner. “We spend a lot of our resources looking into the proper expenditure of those funds.”

His office has provided several recommendations to Academy of Dover to prevent a similar incident occurring in the future, he said.

“The school has been working hard to make improvements, and a lot of this is when the problems come at the top there’s a lack of leadership and oversight,” Wagner said. “Any small organization can be vulnerable for one person using that power to improperly spend money.”

The case currently is being investigated by the FBI, the U.S. Department of Education, the Office of the Inspector General and the Delaware Attorney General’s Office, with assistance from the Delaware Officer of Auditor of Accounts.  Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth L. Van Pelt is prosecuting the case. 

The Delaware Department of Education, representatives from Academy of Dover and Rodriguez’s attorney have yet to respond to requests for comment.

There have yet to be any announcements of any state charges for Rodriguez’s alleged theft of school finances.

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