HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — A high school theatre teacher on Long Island is the subject of high drama this week.
As CBS2’s Carolyn Gusoff reported, Theresa Cucina was behind bars Tuesday, accused of stealing money meant for students in an elaborate computer crime.
For four years, Hempstead Union Free School District has been criticized for graduating less than half of its students. But now, the 55-year-old teacher is accused of ripping students off.
Police on Tuesday escorted Cucina out of the Hempstead school district headquarters in handcuffs.
The Hempstead High School theatre teacher is accused of performing an illegal sale. Sources said she purchased dozens of computers using fake school district purchase orders, and then sold them for personal profit.
She stood charged with grand larceny Tuesday.
“There’s more than enough evidence of involvement and of actual payments being made, and her sending computers addressed to Hempstead Public Schools,” said Hempstead School District Supt. Dr. Shimon Waronker.
Waronker is just three months on the job after turning around some of New York City’s roughest schools. You could say there is a new sheriff in town.
He came on after a suspicious fire this ear destroyed district financial records.
“It appears there is quite a bit of corruption that’s taking place, and this is why the president and the board of Hempstead brought me on board to investigate aggressively,” Waronker said. “This is the first of I believe much to come.”
“It’s really sad, by them,” said school board President Mirabel Toure. “The mission of the board is to protect the wellbeing of the students; the taxpayers.”
Sources said Cucina allegedly bought more than 30 computers from four New York City outlets, had them delivered to her Long Beach home, and then shipped them to unknown locations from John F. Kennedy International Airport.
The district may now be on the hook for hundreds of thousands of dollars for the purchases that it never made to students.
“I wouldn’t really expect it from her,” one student said. “She was one of the sweetest teachers.”
There was also strong reaction from the recently-ousted school board leader in the deeply divided district.
“We already have problems now with finances, so for someone to steal from the children, that is the most terrible thing you can do,” said former school board member Lamont Johnson. “The students need every dollar they can get.”
“If the monies aren’t going to the kids, this is why this is one of the lowest performing school districts in the state of New York,” Waronker said. “The money needs to start going to the kids, and it can’t go into people’s pocketbooks.”
Cucina denies the allegations against her and says she has been scammed or framed.
Meanwhile, while the superintendent said this is just the beginning of his cleanup of corruption in the district, there is speculation as to what is next. The high school principal is suspended in yet another investigation.