Former Hyattsville Mayor Kevin Ward, a popular gay local politician who shockingly committed suicide earlier this year, has been posthumously accused of embezzling millions of dollars from the KIPP DC public charter school network, according to a complaint filed by federal prosecutors.
According to a civil forfeiture complaint filed on Monday, Ward, the former senior director of technology for KIPP DC, allegedly used $2.2 million of school funds to make personal purchases while working for the charter network from 2017 through July 2021.
Prosecutors claim that the funds had been earmarked toward providing laptops, tablets, and other technology for children, but none of the products for which the school system paid were ever delivered, reports The Washington Post.
The scheme allegedly took place during the COVID-19 pandemic, when schools were closed for over a year and were struggling to connect students to virtual learning platforms.
Prosecutors claim Ward took advantage of the situation to put in orders for technology that never materialized, instead using the money to purchase a $169,000 property in West Virginia, at least nine vehicles — including two Teslas worth $218,000 and a Ford F-450 worth $120,000 — and assorted art and sports memorabilia.
Ward later took a leave of absence in July 2021, two months after being elected Hyattsville’s mayor.
According to prosecutors, KIPP DC paid Tenret Tech and Vast Systems for technology services and thousands of devices — including 1,000 Android tablets, 150 MacBook Air laptops, and 3,400 Acer Chromebooks — between April 3, 2020 and Oct. 27, 2021.
Those devices were never delivered, so the school system distributed devices purchased from other vendors to assist students in learning from home, a KIPP DC spokesperson said.
Tenret Tech was a Maryland corporation registered in April 2020, according to court records.
The company’s documents identify Ward as its authorized person and resident agent, and list Ward’s home address as its own, according to the complaint.
Prosecutors say Vast Systems is an affiliate of Tenret Tech, and purported to do business with Tenret Tech, according to the Post.
An internal review by KIPP DC in December 2021 uncovered the questionable spending, allegedly authorized by Ward, prompting the charter school network to contact the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, which then launched an investigation into the suspected fraud.
The network, which serves over 7,000 students throughout the District, also claimed to have conducted its own review, led by outside counsel and a team of forensic accountants, to determine the extent of Ward’s alleged deception.
Tom Clark, a spokesperson for KIPP DC, told DCist that forensic investigation revealed that “this was an isolated incident conducted by a single individual who took advantage of extraordinary circumstances during the pandemic and the individual’s role as head of technology.”
“These funds originated from KIPP DC’s financial reserves and from a single private grant,” Clark said. “No federal grant funds were used to reimburse these fraudulent invoices.”
Clark added that the charter school network had already recovered $1 million from its insurance provider, and expects the U.S. Department of Justice’s planned forfeiture of Ward’s West Virginia property, cars, and memorabilia will net another $800,000. The school network plans to make changes to policies and procedures dealing with large-scale purchases to prevent future fraud.
Shortly after KIPP DC claims it went to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Ward, a 44-year-old father of two who previously served as a Hyattsville city council member prior to his election as mayor, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in Fort Marcy Park, a public park in McLean, Virginia.
Ward’s suicide came as a shock to many Hyattsville residents and Maryland politicians, many of whom mourned his passing and praised him for the political stances he had taken while alive.
Republican Governor Larry Hogan and Democratic Congressman Anthony Brown, one-time political rivals, both tweeted condolences to Ward’s family and offered laudatory statements about the former Hyattsville mayor.
In a statement issued on Tuesday, a spokesperson for the city of Hyattsville said city officials learned of Ward’s alleged scheme through news reports.
The statement assured community members that no elected officials have access to the city’s cash account and that the spending of taxpayer dollars goes through a “robust, multi-layered approval process.”
“We know this may be difficult news for members of the Hyattsville community,” the statement read. “A reminder that the 988 Crisis Lifeline is a free resource for anyone that is struggling or experiencing suicidal thoughts. Call or text 988 if you need help.
“The City will not be making additional statements on the matter at this time.”
An attorney for Ward’s estate was not listed on the federal courts database, and thus could not be reached for comment.
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