Reisterstown woman convicted in city schools tutoring fraud case

Queen faces up to 15-year sentence for falsely billing system more than $150,000

April 07, 2011|By Nick Madigan, The Baltimore Sun

A 41-year-old Reisterstown woman was convicted Thursday of falsely billing the Baltimore public school system for more than $150,000 in phantom tutoring, a scam that prosecutors said included forging dozens of signatures of both parents and tutors.

Tracy Denise Queen, who operated an enterprise called Queen's Mobile Education from her home on Bentley Hill Drive, fraudulently billed the city schools for 3,966 hours of tutoring that her company never provided, Shelly S. Glenn, a senior assistant state prosecutor, told a Baltimore County circuit judge. Not only did Queen steal from the school system, the prosecutor said, but she failed to fully pay at least 14 tutors who had worked for her company.

Meanwhile, Queen pocketed a total of $150,752 over three years "based upon the representation by Queen that the tutoring documentation was true and accurate and had actually occurred," Glenn said, adding that school staff members "obviously never would have paid Queen on these invoices had they not been deceived by the falsified and fraudulent documentation which she passed as true."

In court, Queen sat with a grim expression as Glenn read aloud a statement of facts, which neither the defendant nor her attorney, Jennifer B. Aist, contested. Queen could receive a maximum of 15 years in prison and a $15,000 fine when she is sentenced by Judge John G. Turnbull II on June 9. The prosecutor said she intends to ask Turnbull to impose a 10-year period of probation after whatever prison term he might impose, and to order Queen to repay the school system the full $150,752 within that decade.

In a statement, city schools spokeswoman Edie House Foster called fraud an egregious act, "especially when it is carried out against our community's most vulnerable members, our children."

The prosecutor's office said the scam was discovered two years ago by Joan Jacobson, whose son, now 18, was receiving additional tutoring at home from a woman, employed by Queen, named Dolores Miller. Four months after the tutoring began, Miller informed Jacobson that she might have to stop teaching the boy because Queen had failed to pay her, according to Glenn. After receiving "no meaningful response" from Queen, Jacobson — who had been "very pleased with Miller's efforts" and wanted her to continue the tutoring — contacted school system officials.

It was then that Queen's scheme began to unravel, Glenn said. Officials discovered that Queen had submitted documentation in the Jacobson case showing that the boy was being tutored by someone named Christie Lopez, although no such person had ever tutored the teen. Some of Queen's documents reflected tutoring that had supposedly occurred while the Jacobsons were out of town.

A review of the records found that Queen had also submitted false documentation for another student Miller had tutored. School officials offered to provide a new tutor for Jacobson's son and to restart his tutoring program from the beginning, and they ultimately terminated Queen's contract with the system.

But school officials did not report the falsifications to law enforcement authorities, according to Jacobson, who attended Thursday's court hearing. Jacobson, a former reporter for The Evening Sun and The Baltimore Sun — troubled by what she said was the lack of a more wide-ranging investigation — contacted James I. Cabezas, the chief investigator for the state prosecutor's office, which then launched an investigation that found 17 families affected by Queen's alleged manipulations and resulted in her arrest. The prosecutor's office confirmed Jacobson's role in its statement to the judge.

"My son's education records were fabricated, and my signature was forged," Jacobson said outside the courtroom. "The city schools system needs to have better ways to monitor these private contractors."

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