Tuesday, August 16, 2005
Carmel on the Case: Busted School Workers
They could be some of the least likely criminals. Just about two weeks ago, more than two dozen Miami-Dade School employees were arrested on fraud and drug charges. But now 7 News has learned they're not the only ones who've had a brush with the law. Investigative reporter Carmel Cafiero explains in tonight's Carmel on the Case.
Just days before they would have been driving our children to school...Or making sure the classrooms were clean...Or cooking lunch in the cafteria...22 employees of the Miami-Dade school system were arrested. Accused of conspiracy to possess and distribute oxycodone in a scheme that involved phony prescriptions and insurance fraud.
Investigative Reporter Carmel Cafiero: "And if you knew the criminal histories of some of those school workers - you might not be surprised that they're facing felony charges today."
A check of public records turned up some disturbing information. Eleven of the 22 arrested school workers have prior arrest records and some have felony convictions. Among them: A custodian has a record that dates back to the seventies and includes everything from the possession of opium and cocaine to unemployment fraud to battery on a police officer. Of the bus attendants charged, we found arrests for everything from burglary to battery ---- from marijuana to prostitution. One school bus driver even had a history of grand theft and welfare misrepresentations.
Carmel Cafiero: "Are these the kind of people we want to have contact with our children?"
Joseph Garcia from Miami-Dade Schools: "Clearly - no."
That was Joseph Garcia's response last week. As spokesman for the Miami-Dade school district, he admits old policies allowed people with troubling backgrounds to be employed in the school system.
Joseph Garcia: "In some cases the district was aware of the arrests and allowed the employees to continue their employment. In some cases the district was not aware of the arrests."
Today - there's a long list of crimes that will keep you from being hired by the school district. But current employees who may have committed those very same crimes in the past can keep on working. And not all violations of the law can cost a job.
Joseph Garcia: "Someone who is a welfare cheat isn't necessarily voided of their opportunity to work for the school system. I mean each of these cases would be taken up individually."
The district says it plans to catch up with crooks in the future by conducting fingerprint checks every five years and working with law enforcement agencies.
Joseph Garcia: "These are ghosts that potentially can haunt us."
But on Monday, Joseph Garcia invited us back for a second interview with a tougher campaign to weed out criminals on campus. He says that Superintendent Rudy Crew wants to be more aggressive about who is working in our schools. And that Crew wants a plan by this week to push up fingerprinting for 47 thousand school district employees.
Joseph Garcia: You've uncovered some criminals who were criminals before and that's of a great deal of conern to us. So we want to make sure we know the extent of the problem Channel 7 has uncovered."
A problem that will persist until our schools are as safe as possible.
If you have a story for Carmel:
Call her in Dade at 305-627-CLUE
Or in Broward at 954-921-CLUE