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Md. School System Employee Charged With Theft

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WASHINGTON (AP) — A school employee in Maryland who had oversight of her district’s federal funds for low-income students is accused of using the money to buy computers, video game consoles and other electronics for herself and family members, federal prosecutors said Thursday.

Rhayda Barnes-Thomas, who worked in the Charles County school system, was charged with theft from a government program and making false statements. She appeared in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt, Md., and was released on her own recognizance. Her attorney declined comment.

Prosecutors said Barnes-Thomas used Title I funding, federal aid awarded to school districts with large numbers of children from low-income families, to buy more than 200 electronics items, including Nintendo Wii consoles and games, televisions, iPads and iPods.

The alleged theft of more than $100,000 was uncovered during an audit last fall.

Barnes-Thomas, 40, of Accokeek, Md., had been the school district’s Title I coordinator since 2006.

“We’re shocked that any school employee, regardless of their position, would allegedly misuse funds designated for children — and in this case, funds designated for our most economically disadvantaged students,” said school system spokeswoman Katie O’Malley Simpson.

She said Barnes-Thomas was placed on administrative leave in December and no longer works at the school.

The investigation began when school system employees noticed that four Apple laptops bought with Title I funding were missing, according to the complaint. Two of the laptops were taken by two school district employees and later returned.

The other two laptops were found outside a school district building last December along with a newspaper article about the investigation into the missing computers, the complaint said.

Barnes-Thomas initially lied about the alleged theft by denying to an investigator that she possessed items bought with Title I funding.

The theft charge carries a maximum prison sentence of 10 years, and making false statements is punishable by up to 5 years.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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