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U.S. Atty: Charles Co. schools admin used $100k+ for iPods, Wii

Thursday - 3/31/2011, 1:00pm  ET

WASHINGTON -- A Charles County Schools financial manager has been charged with using thousands of federal dollars -- earmarked for academic equipment for underprivileged students -- to buy laptops, iPods and video game consoles for herself and her family.

Rhayda Barnes-Thomas, 40, of Accokeek, Md. allegedly used federal Title I funds to purchase the Apple MacBook Pro, two televisions, three Apple iPods, a Nintendo Wii gaming system and a GPS device federal agents found in her home and the homes of her family members, according to a U.S. Department of Justice release. She allegedly also purchased Nintendo Wii consoles and games, Sony Playstation 3 consoles, and other televisions and Apple products.

Over 200 items valued at more than $100,000 are still unaccounted for, according to a county schools internal audit. "A vast majority" of these were allegedly purchased by Barnes-Thomas, the county schools coordinator for Title I funding, by forging her superior's signature.

She faces up to 15 years in prison for theft and making false statements.

School officials began investigating four missing Apple laptops in October 2010, according to the criminal affidavit. Two of these had been taken by school employees and were subsequently recovered.

A senior school official asked Barnes-Thomas if she had used Title I funds, reserved for purchasing classroom equipment, to buy the other two laptops, which she denied.

On Dec. 20, 2010, a box containing the missing laptops and a newspaper article referencing the schools' investigation of the missing computers was found near county school property.

This spurred the schools audit, discovering irregularities with the Title I purchases.

Barnes-Thomas told law enforcement the Apple Macbook found with a family member was purchased using Title I funding, and that she legitimately purchased one of the televisions found.

She is scheduled to appear in U.S. District Court Thursday afternoon.

WTOP's Paul D. Shinkman contributed to this report.

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(Copyright 2011 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)