Feds: Fake tutor defrauded Philly schools of nearly $100K

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School District of Philadelphia headquarters.

A woman who allegedly concocted an elaborate scheme to bilk the Philadelphia School District out of more than $90,000 has been hit with federal fraud charges, authorities said Monday.

For almost two years, Patricia Cleary claimed to be tutoring a relative with special needs who was a School District student, according to the FBI; U.S. Attorney Louis D. Lappen; and Amy Kurland, the inspector general for the city and school system. The officials said Cleary used her maiden name, Patricia Goldstein, to submit a false federal tax form, using another person’s Social Security number and falsified teaching credentials. (Public school systems often pay private contractors to educate special needs students.)

Cleary, 49, faces 28 charges including wire fraud, mail fraud, Social Security fraud, aggravated identity theft, and false statements to government agents. She has pleaded not guilty to the charges, and in a court appearance Friday before Magistrate Judge Elizabeth T. Hay she was ordered released on $10,000 bail.

Neither Cleary — who previously lived in Philadelphia but whose current address is not known — nor her lawyer could be reached for comment.

The scheme allegedly began in 2014, when Cleary and her husband entered into a settlement with the school system on behalf of their relative, the student. The boy was awarded 1,200 hours of compensatory education at $60 per hour. They had to submit documentation to prove the services were provided.

Between January 2015 and May 2016, Cleary allegedly presented herself to the school system as Patricia Goldstein, the child’s tutor.

She is not licensed or credentialed, and the young man received no services, federal officials said.

The school district paid Cleary for $58,940 worth of invoices. When it halted payments on her invoices, Cleary threatened to sue the district, according to court documents.

“Stealing money from a cash-strapped school district, money meant to help people with special needs, is outrageous,” FBI Special Agent in Charge Michael T. Harpster said in a statement. “As alleged in the indictment, Cleary exploited a vulnerable family member to enrich herself — and when the school district grew suspicious and stopped sending checks, she brashly doubled down and threatened suit.

“Identify theft is a serious crime that affects millions of Americans each year. This case is an example of how an identity thief can infiltrate an organization, pose as a legitimate tutor, and cause all of us to pay her an unearned salary,” Daniel B. Brubaker, inspector in charge of the Philadelphia division of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, said in a statement. “This case illustrates how far-reaching the effects of identity theft are, and the depths these criminals will go to receive ill-gotten gains.”

Lee Whack, a spokesman for the district, said the school system will continue to cooperate with law enforcement and the Inspector General’s Office.

“Defrauding the Philadelphia public schools, its children and taxpayers is a serious charge and will not be tolerated,” Whack said in a statement.