FBI Raids Paris School Chief's Home Over $3M Fraud
In a shocking development, FBI agents searched the home of Jeremy Larson, the superintendent of Paris Union School District No. 95, on Tuesday, January 18, 2023. The search was part of an ongoing investigation into the district's misuse of federal funds, which amounted to $3.24 million in questioned costs, unallowable expenditures and unallowable salaries.
What Led to the FBI Search?
The FBI search was prompted by a routine audit of the district by the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE), which revealed serious irregularities in the district's financial management. The audit covered the period from July 1, 2018, to June 30, 2020, and included federal grants such as Title I, Title II, Title III, Title IV and IDEA.
According to ISBE, the audit findings indicated that the district:
- Failed to maintain adequate internal controls over federal funds.
- Failed to comply with federal program requirements and regulations.
- Failed to maintain adequate documentation to support federal expenditures.
- Failed to allocate federal funds properly among schools and programs.
- Failed to monitor federal program activities and outcomes.
- Failed to report accurate and timely data to ISBE and other stakeholders.
As a result of these findings, ISBE conducted further monitoring of the district and identified approximately $3.24 million in questioned costs, unallowable expenditures and unallowable salaries. These included:
- $1.8 million in salaries paid to Larson and other district employees that exceeded the allowable amounts or were not supported by time and effort records.
- $1.2 million in expenditures for travel, meals, entertainment, gifts, personal items and other items that were not related to federal programs or were not reasonable or necessary.
- $240,000 in expenditures for professional development, curriculum development, software licenses and other items that were not aligned with federal program objectives or were not approved by ISBE.
ISBE also found that Larson had created a separate bank account for federal funds without ISBE's knowledge or approval and had transferred federal funds to this account without proper authorization or documentation.
What Are the Consequences for the District and Larson?
The FBI search was conducted with a court-authorized warrant, but no arrests or charges have been made so far. The FBI declined to comment on the details of the search or the investigation, but confirmed that they were working with ISBE and other federal authorities.
ISBE stated that it had notified the U.S. Department of Education and other federal agencies of the audit findings and the questioned costs. ISBE also stated that it had taken corrective actions to ensure that the district complies with federal program requirements and regulations in the future. These actions include:
- Withholding federal funds from the district until all questioned costs are resolved or repaid.
- Requiring the district to submit a corrective action plan to address the audit findings and improve its financial management system.
- Providing technical assistance and guidance to the district on federal program implementation and reporting.
- Conducting regular monitoring visits and reviews of the district's federal programs and activities.
ISBE also stated that personnel decisions regarding Larson are up to the local school board, which has the authority to hire, fire or discipline him. The Paris Union School District declined to comment on Larson's status or the FBI search, but issued a statement saying that it was cooperating with ISBE and other authorities.
What Are the Implications for the Community and the Students?
The FBI search and the audit findings have raised concerns and questions among the community members and the students of Paris Union School District No. 95, which serves about 2,000 students in four schools.
Some parents expressed anger and disappointment at Larson and the district for misusing federal funds that were meant to improve student achievement and provide educational opportunities for low-income, English learner and special education students.
Some students expressed confusion and anxiety about how the investigation might affect their education and their future.
Some teachers expressed frustration and uncertainty about how the investigation might affect their salaries, benefits and working conditions.
Some local officials expressed support and solidarity with the district and its staff, while calling for accountability and transparency from Larson and ISBE.
The FBI search and the audit findings have also attracted national attention and scrutiny from media outlets, education experts and political leaders.
Some have criticized Larson for his alleged misconduct and abuse of power, while others have defended him as a dedicated and innovative educator.
Some have questioned ISBE's oversight and enforcement of federal funds, while others have praised ISBE's swift and decisive actions.
Some have highlighted the challenges and complexities of managing federal funds in public education, while others have advocated for more funding and flexibility for local districts.
The FBI search and the audit findings have exposed a serious case of financial mismanagement and possible fraud in Paris Union School District No. 95, which has jeopardized the district's federal funding and reputation.
The investigation is still ongoing and the final outcome is uncertain, but the district and Larson will likely face legal, financial and professional consequences for their actions.
However, despite the difficulties and uncertainties, the district and the community have also shown resilience and optimism for the future.
The district has pledged to work with ISBE and other authorities to resolve the issues and improve its financial practices.
The community has expressed its support and appreciation for the district's staff and students, who have continued to provide and receive quality education amid the turmoil.
The district and the community have also reaffirmed their commitment and dedication to their shared vision and mission of providing excellence in education for all students.