Ex-Head Start director admits bilking program Restitution, 5 years of probation ordered

May 30, 1998|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,SUN STAFF

The former director of Head Start at Morgan State University pleaded guilty yesterday to bilking the program out of $63,101.21 -- money prosecutors said she drew on for personal expenses, including the rental of a champagne fountain for a private party.

Theresa Pearson, 48, of the 800 block of Smoke Tree Road in Pikesville was sentenced to five years' probation by Baltimore Circuit Judge Paul Smith.

Pearson also was ordered to repay $27,495.93, the amount prosecutors said they could document was used for her benefit. The rest of the money, they said, was impossible to trace because it was withdrawn in cash from accounts she set up while misappropriating money from the federally funded program, which gives impoverished children an early start in school.

In a statement submitted to the court, Carolyn H. Henneman, chief of criminal investigations of the Maryland Office of the Attorney General, outlined a broad scheme Pearson used to divert money belonging to the program from November 1994 to March 1997.

Pearson diverted to accounts she controlled $41,068.95 in reimbursements for Head Start expenses the university had paid, the statement said. The program is one of several in the city. Its expenses are paid by the university, which is then reimbursed by the city from federal funds, officials said.

In addition, Pearson collected $9,261 in paychecks for a departed employee she certified was still working for the program, submitting bogus time sheets to support her claim, according to the statement.

She stole an additional $6,413 by submitting false invoices for travel, supplies and equipment, the statement said.

The rest of the stolen money came from refunds for unused goods and services and health insurance payments from the program's employees that she cashed instead of turning over to the university.

Mitchel Gordon, Pearson's attorney, said his client had spent her adult life working with children and was sorry for taking the money.

"It's just a very unfortunate situation, which she sincerely regrets," said Gordon. "She hopes to make restitution as quickly as possible to put this matter behind her."

Gordon said Pearson resigned her post at Morgan in April last year, shortly after a colleague approached university officials with concerns about the program's operation.

In her statement to the court, Henneman said Pearson told investigators she had used some of the cash to pay incidental program expenses, such as emergency wages for hall monitors.

But the assistant attorney general said those claims were impossible to verify, adding, "In any event, she failed to go through proper channels to receive university approval for these expenditures."

Of the expenditures investigators were able to trace, through canceled checks and money orders, $480 was for the rental of equipment for a private party, including a champagne fountain, she billed to the university as a program expense, according to the statement.

Pearson used $2,457 of the money to make mortgage payments; $1,150 to pay off a car loan and $500 to cover part of the cost of her grandmother's funeral.

Pearson also wrote $10,635.93 in checks and money orders to herself and $6,308.62 to family members, the statement said.

Pub Date: 5/30/98

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