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Paideia Academy board chairman indicted on federal fraud charges

(via Flickr/steakpinball)

Updated 3:53 p.m.

According to the U.S. Attorney's Office, Fred W. Robinson, 69, of St. Louis, and chairman of the board of trustees for Paideia Academy, a now-shuttered charter school in St. Louis, has been indicted multiple fraud charges.

The charges not only relate to Robinson's "alleged diversion of federal and state education funds from the Paideia Academy Charter School," but also to his role as an employee of the St. Louis City Treasurer's office, where he is accused of submitting false weekly time sheets. City Treasurer Larry Williams did not return a call for comment on that ongoing investigation.

Details surrounding the charges related to Paideia Academy are described as follows by the U.S. Attorney's Office:

"The indictment alleges that during 2009 and 2010, Robinson diverted approximately $257,000 of Paideia Academy funds for the purchase, construction, renovation and rehabilitation of a building at 4028 West Florissant Avenue in St. Louis for the purpose of developing and operating a Little People’s Academy day care center in which Robinson had a ownership and financial interest.  Robinson failed to disclose his ownership and financial interest in the proposed day care center to the Paideia Academy Board of Trustees.  Robinson’s partner in the proposed day care center, identified in the indictment as Latasha P., was a friend and associate of Robinson who worked as a bartender at a lounge frequented by Robinson, and who had no background, experience or training in early childhood education or the operations of a day care center."

Paideia Academy closed in June 2010 after the Missouri University of Science and Technology pulled its sponsorship and the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education refused to renew the charter.

A spokesman for Missouri S&T said that sponsors pay more attention to academic performance, not day to day operations, so they would not have been focused on financial information. He did not know if anyone associated with Paideia complained to Missouri S&T about possible financial mismanagement.

U.S. attorney Richard Callahan said the indictment doesn't attempt to draw a connection between Robinson's alleged theft and the school's eventual failure.

"Obviously if you have resources being devoted to non school purposes that there's less money there for the student, but in terms of any cause and effect relationship, that would be beyond our ability to measure," Callahan said.

Robinson was arrested Tuesday and is scheduled to appear for his Initial Appearance at 2:00 p.m.

A federal grand jury indicted Robinson on one felony count of wire fraud and seven felony counts of federal program theft. If convicted, Robinson could face a maximum of 20 years in prison and/or fines up to $250,000 for the wire fraud charge, along with a maximum of 10 years in prison and/or fines up to $250,000 for each of the seven program theft charges.

Paideia Academy was under federal investigation back in 2010, but , so far, there's no word on a state investigation or audit of the school.

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.

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