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Los Angeles: Charter Operator Pleads Guilty to Stealing $3 Million

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This just in from federal officials:

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Central District of California
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Friday, July 17, 2020
Former Head of Community Preparatory Academy Admits Stealing Over $3 Million and Spending $220,000 on Disney Expenses

LOS ANGELES – Federal prosecutors today filed criminal theft and tax fraud charges against the former executive director of a charter school outfit who stole more than $3.1 million that should have been spent on school operations, but instead financed a lifestyle that included extravagant spending on Disney cruises and theme park admissions.

Janis Bucknor, 52, a resident of Baldwin Hills, who ran the for-profit Community Preparatory Academy (CPA) charter school and controlled several related entities, agreed to plead guilty to two felony offenses in a plea agreement also filed today in United States District Court. CPA operated two schools, one in Carson and one in South Los Angeles.

The case charges Bucknor with one count of theft, embezzlement and intentional misapplication of funds from an organization receiving federal funds, and one count of tax evasion for the tax year 2016. The court has yet to schedule any hearings in this matter.

Over the course of approximately 5½ years – from early 2014 through November 2019 – Bucknor stole a total of $3,168,346 from CPA, according to the most recent estimate of losses in the case. The amount of stolen funds is nearly one-third of all federal and state funding that went to CPA during the time.

In her plea agreement, Bucknor admitted using the stolen funds to pay for, among other things, personal travel, restaurants, Amazon and Etsy purchases, and private school tuition for her children. She also admitted spending about $220,614 on Disney cruise line vacations, theme park admissions and other Disney-related expenses.

The scheme began to unravel in February 2018, when “LAUSD-Charter School Division’s routine audit of CPA revealed that defendant used the CPA accounts for personal expenses, including unauthorized payments directly from some of the CPA accounts to Disney, Louis Vuitton, Girl Scouts, Ticketmaster, Uber, Baby Teeth Children’s Dentistry, Williams Sonoma, National American Miss pageants, and Forest Lawn Mortuaries, all of which were for defendant’s own personal and unauthorized use and benefit,” according to the plea agreement.

In relation to the tax evasion offense, Bucknor agreed to plead guilty to her 2016 taxes, but she admitted failing to pay the Internal Revenue Service $299,639 in taxes when she failed to report $1,322,254 in income for the tax years 2015 through 2018.

When she pleads guilty, Bucknor will face a statutory maximum sentence of 15 years in federal prison.

As part of the plea agreement, Bucknor has agreed to forfeit to the government her interest in three residential properties in South Los Angeles that were paid for with funds stolen from the charter school.

This case was investigated by the Los Angeles Unified School District’s Office of the Inspector General, the U.S. Department of Education Office of Inspector General, IRS Criminal Investigation, the United States Secret Service, and the United States Postal Inspection Service.

The criminal case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Katherine A. Rykken and Alexander C.K. Wyman of the Major Frauds Section. Assistant United States Attorneys Jonathan Galatzan and Katharine Schonbachler are handling the asset forfeiture part of the matter.

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