LAND O'LAKES - Pasco County schools superintendent Heather Fiorentino has asked for a criminal investigation into the Language Academy after someone told district officials that there had been embezzlement at the charter school, she said.
"It's my job to make sure that they're accountable to the public and follow the contract," Fiorentino said Monday.
The Pasco County Sheriff's Office is having "ongoing discussions" with school district officials in an effort to determine whether there was a crime - or possibly bad accounting - at the school.
"We're still determining what direction we need to go," sheriff's spokesman Doug Tobin said.
An audit of the bilingual school is expected to come out later this month. Fiorentino believes the school is about $150,000 in debt and said as much as $500,000 may be unaccounted for from the tenure of the academy's founder and former principal, the Rev. Gary Carson.
Carson resigned as the charter school's principal in March 2004, citing the demands of dealing with a family illness and heading the Westminster Presbyterian Church as its pastor.
During its first two years, the Language Academy was cited twice in school district audits for not complying with financial, staffing and curriculum rules. The school also struggled to keep balanced bank accounts and failed to properly document some purchases…
But school district officials and a former church treasurer say the problems at the Language Academy ran much deeper than unbalanced checkbooks.
"A lot of things going on at the school shouldn't have been going on, in terms of administration," former church treasurer Walter Sellers said.
Sellers said that Carson was recently "defrocked," or stripped of his ministerial duties, for seven years by the Presbytery of Tampa Bay…
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CHARTER SCHOOL FACES FINANCIAL INQUIRY-THE SUPERINTENDENT ASKS FOR A CRIMINAL INVESTIGATION OF THE LANGUAGE ACADEMY. THE SHERIFF'S OFFICE WANTS TO KNOW IF IT'S EMBEZZLEMENT OR JUST BAD ACCOUNTING; August 22, 2006; St. Petersburg Times (FL)