MCPS Board of Education faces criminal investigation

ROCKVILLE, Md. (WJLA) - A Maryland state agency that sniffs out government fraud and corruption has launched a criminal investigation into the Montgomery County Board of Education.

The probe comes less than three weeks after ABC7 revealed longtime board member Chris Barclay made 14 personal purchases with his school district credit card.

Last Tuesday, Maryland's Office of the State Prosecutor sent MCPS a two-page criminal subpoena. The legal document, signed by state prosecutor Emmet C. Davitt, orders the high-ranking school district to produce BOE financial records by June 27.

"Any and all documents corresponding to Board of Education credit card purchases to include, but not limited to, receipts, invoices, billing statements, memoranda of expenditures and memoranda of reimbursement," the subpoena reads.

"The subpoena says, thank goodness! For once someone is going to be taking a look at the ethics of our elected officials," Janis Sartucci remarked.

Sartucci, a leading member of the Parents' Coalition of Montgomery County, hopes the state's inquest will improve overall school district efficiency.

"It's a huge reminder to the public school system that they are in fact a public entity," Sartucci added. "They're spending public dollars. They're spending my neighbor's tax dollars, your neighbor's tax dollars. When they're going out to lunch and buying leather computer bags, those tax dollars are coming from the hardworking citizens of Montgomery County."

Founded in 1977, the Office of the State Prosecutor maintains a staff of twelve, investigating cases at the request of the Governor, Attorney General, General Assembly, State Ethics Commission, or any of Maryland's 23 State’s Attorney's Offices. During the last 37 years, investigators have charged hundreds of politically connected individuals, including former Anne Arundel County Executive John Leopold and District Heights Vice Mayor Eddie Martin.

While policy prohibits the Office of the State Prosecutor from discussing active cases, the agency focuses on five types of alleged crimes: election law violations, public ethics law violations, bribery law violations involving public officials/employees, misconduct in office by public officials/employees, and extortion, perjury, or obstruction of justice related to any of the above.

During a regularly scheduled school board meeting Tuesday, BOE President Phil Kauffman spoke briefly about the current credit card scandal, and the high-level of public interest it's attracted. Kauffman, whose wife is an MCPS teacher, also updated constituents on the ad hoc committee formed to refine BOE credit card policies and reimbursement procedures.

"As Justice Brandeis said, 'sunlight is the best disinfectant.' So that's what we're looking for here. Let's keep the sunshine on this $2.3 billion budget, and let's keep looking at it to make sure every dollar is being used in the best possible way," Sartucci concluded.

Although the eight-member school board has pledged a new era of transparency, no one agreed to speak with members of the media Tuesday. However, MCPS spokesman Dana Tofig told ABC7 that the school district has already provided the Office of the State Prosecutor with all BOE financial documents dating back to 2010 ---- some 1500 pages worth.

The state's investigation is ongoing.