The principal of a charter school in Delaware blew over $120,000 in school funds to improperly purchase alcohol, toy figurines, and video games for himself, according to a newly-released audit.
Noel Rodriguez was the head of the Academy of Dover until September of last year, when he was forced out by the local school board. Now, an inquiry by State Auditor Tom Wagner has uncovered flagrant abuses during his tenure at the school.
According to the audit, starting in 2011 Rodriguez used school funds to make $127,866 in personal purchases, and spent another $129,458 that could not be clearly classified as either personal or professional in nature.
Rodriguez’s biggest area of illegal abusive spending was on electronics, which he spent a total of $39,500 on. Some of his purchases included a $400 Playstation 4 video game console, a $500 treadmill, a 55′ television worth more than $700, and multiple laptops, including one which cost $1,750.
Rodriguez also spent $11,433 on restaurant tabs, most of which was used to buy alcohol, as the auditor said he frequently treated staff to “happy hours” after work. Other spending included $8,854 on tools and $7,287 on household items.
One of the principal’s more exotic purchases was over $2,000 in Christmas ornaments; the audit quotes employees who describe Rodriguez as a “Christmas fanatic.”
The audit also documented in detail Rodriguez’s penchant for buying toy figurines. Pictures of Rodriguez’s office show dozens of figurines arrayed on his furniture, such as Smokey the Bear and eight members of the Pittsburgh Steelers football team. According to the auditor, items bought with school funds included a $90 Wizard of Oz figurine, a $45 Jimeny Cricket figure, and a $175 hand-painted tile.
-$630 on camping equipment, including a tent and sleeping bag, even though the school does not offer any camping
-Movies such as Bad Teacher, Pain and Gain, and Blade Trinity which would not be suitable viewing for a school audience
-Tiki torches for use in a backyard garden
-Both men’s and women’s underwear
-A $159 dog house
Rodriguez’s misuse of school funds wasn’t limited to improper purchases for himself. The report describes him as a “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” character who on some days would grant virtually any expense request made by teachers and on others would approve almost nothing. He also is accused of giving certain employees preferential treatment in the form of big salary raises.
The audit notes that once Rodriguez learned he was being investigated, he handed over many items to the school that he had been using at home, such as a washing machine, car jack, and lawnmower. It concludes that the abuse was able to occur because the school’s board of directors was too cozy with Rodriguez and had a “groupthink” mentality, while the state Department of Education engaged in lax oversight that failed to detect any wrongdoing. Rodriguez’s downfall only came in August 2014 when somebody contacted the auditor through its tip hotline.
Despite all of this abusive spending, Rodriguez has not been charged with any crime thus far, but the Academy of Dover has been placed on a yearlong probation due to its financial mismanagement.