The former director of information technology for the Harrisburg School District in Pennsylvania and a school district contractor have agreed to plead guilty to conspiracy in a kickback scheme involving a project supported with E-rate discounts.
According to the Harrisburg Patriot News, John H. Weaver, who resigned from the school district in June, and Ronald R. Morrett, president of EMO Communications Inc., signed plea agreements under which they could face up to five years in prison.
The newspaper quoted federal authorities as saying that Morrett's company received payments only when authorized by Weaver and that at some point in 2002, Morrett agreed to secretly pay Weaver to obtain payments on his contract with the district. Over a two-month period, the newspaper said, Morrett funneled nearly $2 million to Weaver. As part of the plea agreements, Weaver reportedly agreed to forfeit three vehicles, a new boat and seven properties, including his interest in a bar in Ocean City, MD.
U.S. Attorney Thomas A. Marino said that through the forfeitures, the government was trying to regain funding that properly belonged to the school district. The newspaper said the scheme was uncovered in June when a woman providing staff development to the district's teachers questioned why 1,000 laptop computers had not been delivered to the school district.
The newspaper said EMO's E-rate-supported billings to the school district covered the "installation of 1,000 interconnected laptops, wiring and other services." It was not clear whether the school district had received E-rate discounts for the purchase of laptop computers, which are not eligible for E-rate support.
According to Schools and Libraries Division data compiled by Funds For Learning, all of EMO's E-rate-related business has been with the Harrisburg School District. The Harrisburg district applied for and received approval on about $19 million worth of funding commitments in 2001. In 2002, it applied for a similar amount, but received approval on only about $10.9 million. About $14.4 million of the 2001 commitments were for products and services supplied by EMO. In 2002, the district sought $15.8 million in commitments for EMO projects, but cancelled funding requests for about $8 million of that. About $1.3 million worth of requests for EMO projects are currently pending for the district for 2003.