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The Brighter Choice charter school gang, composed largely of Pataki hacks and funders, has set up 11 charter schools in Albany, NY, with the goal of destroying public education in the city and weakening teachers unions across the state.

Saturday, the gang got some bad news, in a banner-headline page-one story in the Times Union about how they hired an embezzler who stole from them.

The gang hired Ronald Racela as a top finance guy, evidently unaware that he had been fired from KeyCorp for embezzling $54K, and subsequently pleaded guilty to felony grand larceny.

Like most white-collar crooks, he got a wrist-slap sentence, probation and restitution.

The gang neglected to vet Racela with the state Education Department, as required by law, for 18 months. When they did, SED refused to clear him for employment.

In the interim, and for another nine months, Racela allegedly stole $203K from Brighter Choice.

More, below.

Here's the TU timeline of the case:

October 2009: Ronald Racela arrested on a larceny charge from KeyBank

June 2010: Racela hired as finance director of Brighter Choice Charter Schools

January 2011: Racela pleads guilty to grand larceny

August 2011: Racela named chief operating officer of the Brighter Choice Foundation

March 2012: State Education Department denies employment clearance for Racela

January 2013: Racela charged with stealing $202,837 from Brighter Choice Foundation

Racela's KeyCorp arrest and conviction were not publicized, as far as I and the Brighter Choice gang know. Presumably that was a favor Mayor Jerry Jennings did for his friends at KeyCorp.

Even his current arrest was kept quiet, until reporter Brendan Lyons found out about it:

Racela, who is on probation for his conviction in the KeyBank case, was released following his arrest this week after posting $25,000 bail. Racela's arrest by city detectives was not announced by either Albany police or the charter schools organization.
Presumably a Jennings favor to his friends in the Brighter Choice gang.

Now, a little history -- Tom Carroll was a low-level GOP hack in the state Senate who helped elect Pataki governor in 1994 as head of 1-percent-funded CHANGE-NY. He went on to work for Pataki, helped write and lobby for the state's charter schools law, then left to start charter schools in Albany.

With generous funding from his 1-percent friends, Carroll's project took off -- Brighter Choice now enrolls about 25 percent of school-age children in Albany.

Carroll has become a national spokesman for charter schools and against public education, in the right-wing press anyway.

And Carroll uses some of his 1-percent money to urge voters to oppose the city district's budget.

For his efforts, Carroll made $328,000 in 2009, about twice as much as the Albany city school superintendent.

And, of course, he does not reside in the city, preferring to live in a staunchly Republican suburb.

Carroll's No. 2, Christian Bender (2009 salary -- $217K, lives in the area's toniest suburb, local rich kid who at least has a teaching degree, unlike Carroll and the rest of the gang) tried to put out the fire of hiring an arrested embezzler, and employing a felon, by claiming that Racela had somehow intercepted the SED clearance-refusal notice.

And, naturally, claiming that the Brighter Choice gang did everything they could:

As soon as we found out about the misappropriation of funds, we hired an outside fraud investigator to review our current financial statements and records. The moment the fraud investigator confirmed our suspicion, we contacted local law enforcement and filed criminal charges against the former employee.
"The moment" -- yeah, right.

IMHO, the Brighter Choice gang probably took some time to consider the political/PR implications of their hiring an embezzler who stole from them for top finance jobs.

The first option they no doubt discussed was immediate reimbursement and a quiet resignation.

And when they found that Racela could not repay what he'd stolen, they reluctantly called in the cops.

They managed to keep even that quiet, but not for long.

Hopefully, this will lead to a thorough investigation and audit of how the Brighter Choice gang have enriched themselves at the expense of state and city taxpayers.  

Originally posted to devtob on Sat Jan 26, 2013 at 08:16 PM PST.

Also republished by New York State.

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