Triumphant Charter School

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.


Anonymous said...

Mrs. Helen Hawkins was a positive mentor to hundred of students who were overlooked in regular public schools. She instilled motivation in us grew stronger during high school, college and now career. Mrs. Hawkins created a learning environment that was innovative, safe and provided once in a life time opportunities.

Mismanagement of funds is wrong. Still consideration must be given to her overall character and what the money may have really been used for. She took students into her own home if their were being abused, or their parents were sick (My sister and I were one of these many students and this occurred at different times.).

She also gave students the opportunity to travel to Paris, Mexico, on college tours, underground railroad tour, West Africa, ski trips and horseback riding trips. For your a inner city child whose opportunities are very limited, these trips opened our minds in a way that changed our lives. It instilled confidence to move beyond our community and take a risk to achieve greatness.

I have since graduated from college, lived in multiple cities across the country and have a productive career. I went to two other pubic gammer schools in Chicago before I attended TCS. During this time, I felt that I was "less than", not smart enough, an outcast until I came to Triumphant Charter School. When I graduated, I went to a public high school and excelled because I remembered the pillars that TCS taught: "Decency Dignity and Diligence"

This was the doing of Helen Hawkins and many wonderful teachers under her. She is great woman and educator.

Anonymous said...

I agree me and my sister also went that school changed my life and my sister's. When I read this my heart dropped, she was a woubderful woman who touched and changed children life's. Cause that school opened my eyes to the world it made me want to do good made me want to become a scholar, and make a path for my self to become a better person. I love her and thank her that school should be open