Former Gary Schools Superintendent Cheryl Pruitt has been charged with two Level 6 Felonies related to reimbursement for stay at a $329 per night luxury hotel in Los Angeles.
October 6, 2018-Former Gary Schools Superintendent Cheryl Pruitt has been charged with theft and official misconduct of a public service by Lake County Prosecutor Bernard Carter. Both charges are level 6 felonies and carry a potential prison term of up to 2 and one half years. According to court records, a warrant has been issued for the arrest of the former Superintendent.
According to a probable cause affidavit filed by Indiana State Police in the case, the incident came to light in a 2017 report from the Indiana State Board of Accounts. The report went widely unreported at the time because the State Board of Accounts issued multiple reports at the same time in November, 2017. One report ordered repayment of a $30,000 bonus which Pruitt had wrongfully received and that report garnered media attention.
According to Indiana State Police, Pruitt travelled to Los Angeles between May 3 and May 6, 2016 for an educational conference. Pruitt stayed in a $329 per night room at the Omni Hotel & Resort in Los Angeles.* In addition to the room, Pruitt charged two spa/massages ($248), two cafe charges ($79) and miscellaneous taxes according to the probable cause affidavit filed in the case. “These hotel and other charges were charged to a BMO Harris credit card that is held by the Gary Community School Corporation” the affidavit states. On May 26, 2016, Pruitt submitted an accounts payable voucher for $1,617.90 for the hotel, taxi and miscellaneous expenses which had already been paid by the Gary Community School Corporation. Pruitt received reimbursement in the amount of $1,256.75. She did not seek reimbursement for the two massage/spa charges according to State Police. Changing the amount of the invovice may have been an attempt to avoid detection of the double billing.
The lavish travel came at a time when the Gary Community School Corporation was having extreme financial problems. The Gazette had uncovered that the Corporation failed to remit payroll taxes to the Internal Revenue Service and reported that a lien in excess of $7M had been levied against the district. In addition, the State Board of Accounts found that GCSC failed to pay their food vendor and early childhood education vendor despite receiving grants for these payments.
To make matters worse, Pruitt apparently did not even know the subject of the conference she attended. According to the probable cause affidavit “there is differing information on the topic of this conference but it was either a conference addressing special education students or addressing school building capacity for urban school districts.”
Pruitt’s Twitter account was inactive or scrubbed from february 7, 2016 through June 29, 2016-the time period in question. However, on June 29, 2016 Pruitt was at another conference in Florida as shown in the tweet below.
— Gary Schools (@GarySchools) June 29, 2016
*According to their website, a deluxe room currently costs $180 per night with a government discount and $269 per night without the government discount. Premium rooms are additional.
All criminal defendants are presumed innocent unless proven guilty in a court of law. A criminal charge is not evidence of guilt.
You can see the full audit report below: