Ex-schools worker pleads guilty in theft of money

August 18, 2004|By Allison Klein | Allison Klein,SUN STAFF

A former city schools employee pleaded guilty yesterday in Baltimore Circuit Court to stealing more than $200,000 from the cash-strapped system, three months after he pleaded to similar charges in federal court stemming from the same scheme.

Lewis E. Williams, 61, pleaded guilty yesterday to one charge of felony theft in connection with a 16-month spree in which he took school money and deposited it into his personal account.

He spent money on luxury cars, credit card bills, and tuition so his daughter could attend a private school in Baltimore County, according to prosecutors.

Williams, who will be officially sentenced Aug. 26, agreed to an 18-month suspended sentence and four years' probation. He also must pay restitution to the school system.

Mercantile Bank & Trust, which Williams used in his scheme, has been holding about $30,000 of the schools' money -- the amount Williams left in the account, prosecutors say.

"There was a freezing of the account," said prosecutor Steven Trostle, who handled the case. "The bank has not forwarded a penny to Baltimore City schools."

Officials at Mercantile declined to comment yesterday.

Williams' lawyer, Darrell Chambers, said that Mercantile should be responsible for repaying the school system all $212,000. "When a bank cashes a check that shouldn't be cashed, they're on the hook for it," Chambers said.

According to prosecutors, Williams' scheme lasted from April 2002 to August last year.

Williams, who was in charge of renting school buildings to groups, diverted $212,000 in funds to his Mercantile account, Trostle said. He opened the account in the name "LE Williams Enterprises."

The checks were made out to the Baltimore City Schools Department and were written by private organizations for the use of school facilities, Trostle said.

Williams worked for the Baltimore school board from 1995 to October last year.

In May, he pleaded guilty in federal court to bank fraud and misapplication of funds, and faces up to 40 years at his sentencing next week.

According to Trostle, the way in which the federal charges were prosecuted clearly shows Mercantile Bank as a victim in the case, rather than the school system.

Trostle said his office went forward with additional charges in state court because he wanted to represent the school system as a victim.

As part of the federal plea, Williams agreed to forfeit a 2003 Cadillac CTS and a 2004 Infiniti FX35 -- cars that prosecutors say he bought with the stolen money.

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