Two former employees of an East Baltimore Head Start center were sentenced to prison yesterday for stealing nearly $80,000 from the early childhood education program.
Before being sentenced to four years in prison, Charles Harmon said other officials at the St. Francis Xavier Head Start Center who were not charged with crimes were involved in financial improprieties.
Baltimore Circuit Judge Roger W. Brown said he agreed with a prosecutor that Harmon should not be allowed to shift the blame for the theft, but he criticized center officials for failing to keep a close eye on the organization's money.
"It appears that everybody there was lax -- everybody, even the accountant. I don't know why they even paid the accountant," Judge Brown said.
Harmon, 46, was sentenced to five years in prison, with one year suspended, and was ordered to pay $77,000 in restitution. Donna Jones, 32, was sentenced to four years, with all but six months suspended, and was also held liable for the $77,000 in restitution.
Both pleaded guilty in April to theft charges. Prosecutor Elizabeth A. Ritter said then that the two worked together to cash checks drawn on the center's bank account starting in May 1992. Ms. Ritter said the theft was discovered early last summer when center paychecks bounced.
Jones had worked as a secretary for the center in the 1400 block of N. Caroline St. Harmon worked as a parent liaison despite being on parole for armed robbery.
Addressing the court before sentencing, Harmon charged that center officials knew that he would become the focus of any investigation into missing funds because of his extensive criminal record.
"I feel I was more or less a scapegoat," said Harmon, who accused a center official and a teacher of borrowing money from an office safe.
Lawyers for both defendants said their clients were driven to thievery by their drug habits.
Responding in court to Harmon's allegations, Ms. Ritter, the prosecutor, said the State's Attorney's Office conducted an "intensive" investigation and "the people who were charged were the only people who could be proved to have taken money."
Of Harmon, she noted that he had been charged with five crimes since being paroled in 1977 and had stolen more than $1,300 from an organization for retarded adults before he came to work for Head Start.
"The bottom line is almost a quarter of St. Francis' budget was taken, gone," the prosecutor said. "You must say to the kids who watched and may have trusted Mr. Harmon and Ms. Jones that what they did was so wrong and there are no excuses."