The 65-year-old former head of a now-defunct Chicago charter school was sentenced to three years of probation this afternoon for dipping into school funds to buy Louis Vuitton and Coach bags, hair care products and diet pills.
U.S. District Judge Blanche Manning also ordered Helen Hawkins to pay $48,370 in restitution for using the Triumphant Charter school’s American Express card.
Before she was sentenced, Hawkins told Manning that officials at the South Side school knew she was using the card for personal use. She said she used it to do something nice for the staff.
“I’m truly sorry for the misunderstanding,” she said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Angel Krull explained that Hawkins maintained that she was accruing points so she could treat the staff to gifts. But Krull said the credit card points were actually used to fund Hawkins’ daughter’s trips to Amsterdam, Philadelphia and London.
Hawkins, who was found guilty of embezzlement, never took responsibility for her crime, which ultimately led to the school losing its charter and closing, Krull said.
Even after Hawkins found out she was being investigated for using the credit card in 2004, she continued that behavior, prosecutors said.
Before the sentencing, Manning said she took into account the testimony and letters from Hawkins’ friends and former students who described her as a mentor and role model with great character.
“Maybe you just made a terrible mistake, but you also committed a crime,” Manning told Hawkins.
The case started with an investigation by the Chicago Public Schools’ Inspector General’s office, which questioned more than $250,000 in credit card charges, including almost $30,000 in charges at major department stores like Lord & Taylor and Saks Fifth Avenue, designer leather shops including Louis Vuitton and Coach, as well as Elan Furs, Tommy Hilfiger and the Skymall Airline catalog.
In addition, the probe found charges totalling $2,000 for hair care products and cosmetics, $329 for appetite suppression pills and $5,800 for jewelry, said Chicago Schools Inspector General James Sullivan.
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EX-CHARTER SCHOOL PRINCIPAL GETS PROBATION FOR THEFT: USED SCHOOL CREDIT CARD TO TO BUY COACH, VUITTON BAGS, JEWELRY, DIET PILLS, June 10, 2010, Chicago Sun-Times