U.S. Attorney called schools “a target-rich environment” for fraud

Nov 8, 2011 by

The federal legal microscope that in the past zoomed in on the likes of former Allegheny County Coroner Cyril Wecht is being refocused on school corruption.

U.S. Attorney David J. Hickton on Monday called schools “a target-rich environment” for fraud and said there “seems to be a lot of potential for abuse” of public education funds. In a meeting with Post-Gazette editors, he said he is pursuing “systemic public corruption rather than the one-off case,” with education as a top priority.

“I don’t think you can overstate the importance of education,” Mr. Hickton said. He said he “can’t think of anything worse” than stealing tax dollars meant for schools and students.

He said his office sees school construction as an area for scrutiny. “There are construction projects where there’s a lot of money going into the project, and you want to make sure it goes to construction rather than into somebody’s pocket.”

He said mail fraud and extortion statutes could be effective legal tools to fight school contracting crime. He is considering the creation of a school corruption hotline and the development of a multi-agency group focused on the issue.

Mr. Hickton, who has been the U.S. attorney for the Western District since August 2010, said the office’s approach to public corruption hasn’t always inspired confidence. “Nothing offends the public more than public corruption, except a prosecutor who doesn’t know how to do it,” he said.

He declined to criticize any past prosecutor, but his predecessor, Mary Beth Buchanan, took heat for prosecutions like that of Dr. Wecht. The Democratic coroner was accused of misusing public resources, and after one mistrial and a judge’s decision tossing out evidence, the Republican-appointed prosecutor dropped charges.

via U.S. attorney to take aim at public eduction funding.

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