Former Official Charged with Stealing Funds from Buffalo Schools
BUFFALO, NY—U.S. Attorney William J. Hochul, Jr. announced today that Debbie Buckley, 54, of Niagara Falls, NY, was charged by criminal complaint with theft of government funds. The charge carries a maximum penalty of 10 years and a $250,000 fine.
In addition, Buckley’s son, Hassan El Saddique, who was arrested and charged by criminal complaint on January 13, 2015, has been indicted by a federal grand jury, also on a charge of theft of government funds.
“Those in positions of trust must be held to a higher standard,” said U.S. Attorney Hochul. “This defendant was responsible for disbursing federal funding to children in our community who need it the most. Instead she stands accused of lining her pockets and those of her son with money targeted to assist school kids.”
“Today’s charges allege that Mrs. Buckley knowingly and willfully abused her position of trust to steal funds from the very ones she promised to serve—the children of Buffalo Public Schools. That is completely unacceptable,” said Geoffrey Wood, Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. Department of Education Office of Inspector General’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Office. “OIG Special Agents will continue to aggressively pursue those who seek to enrich themselves at the expense of our nation’s students. America’s students, their families, and taxpayers deserve nothing less.”
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Kathleen A. Lynch and Stephanie Lamarque, who is handling the case, stated that Debbie Buckley served as Supervisor of Title I, Office of Federal and State Programs for the Buffalo School District. Title I is a federally funded program that provides assistance to school districts with high numbers of children from low income families. In March 2010, Buckley was promoted to Assistant Superintendent of Federal and State Programs.
In June 2009, Buckley met with a representative of the Universal School which moved into the City of Buffalo. During the meeting, Buckley asked for and was provided with blank Universal School letterhead signed by the representative. The defendant indicated the letterhead would be used to include the Universal School with other non-public schools to increase resources available.
According to the complaint, a record obtained during the investigation included an undated letter on Universal School letterhead purportedly written by the school representative. The letter, addressed to Buckley, requested Hassan El Saddique to administer the Title I computer assisted program at the Universal School during the 2009-10 school year. The complaint further states that the school representative did not write or sign the letter, the Universal School did not have a Title I computer assisted program, nor did El Saddique ever work at the school.
While El Saddique did not work at the Universal School, he did work at Bishop Timon High School in Buffalo. El Saddique was told the Title I funding at Timon was obligated so he agreed to volunteer at the school. Subsequently, El Saddique was contracted to assist with a Title I after school program at Timon. According to the complaint, El Saddique submitted invoices to the Buffalo School District for the period of September 8, 2009 through June 30, 2010 when in fact, the regular Title 1 program at Bishop Timon ran November 2, 2009 through the end of May, 2010.
In addition to submitting invoices for days not worked at Timon, El Saddique also submitted invoices for services that were never performed at the Universal School.
According to the complaint, Buckley changed the approval process by which a contractor was paid for Title I services provided in non-public schools. The defendant eliminated the need for a signature from an official at the non-public school. Some of the invoices submitted by El Saddique included the name of an employee of the Universal School where he never actually worked while other invoices contained an illegible signature. In addition, Debbie Buckley’s name appears on three of these invoices that did not contain a signature from a non-public school official. The dates of these invoices coincide with the period during which Buckley was promoted to Assistant Superintendent.
El Saddique received 18 paychecks from the Buffalo School District totaling $15,120. Of those paychecks, 13 were deposited into two union accounts controlled by Buckley for a total of $10,320 and another check was cashed using one of those accounts.
Buckley made an initial appearance this morning before U.S. Magistrate Judge H. Kenneth Schroeder and was released on bond. Hassan El Saddique was arraigned this morning before U.S. Magistrate Judge Hugh B. Scott. He pleaded not guilty and continues to be released on bond. Oral argument on motions is scheduled for June 25, 2015 at 10:00 a.m.
The criminal complaint and indictment are the culmination of an investigation on the part of Special Agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Inspector General, under the direction of Assistant Special Agent in Charge Geoff Wood.
The fact that a defendant has been charged with a crime is merely an accusation and the defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.