MINEOLA, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — There was a guilty plea Thursday from a Hempstead police officer in a case that has implications for a struggling school system.
Supporters huddled around Randy Stith after the 28-year-old sitting school board trustee admitted in court what less than a year ago he had denied. The reversal was part of a plea deal in a 13-count indictment that had included grand larceny, CBS2’s Carolyn Gusoff reported.
Stith admitted he stole money from his fire company and used a forged letter of recommendation to become a Hempstead cop.
“He violated the trust of the members of the fire department by illegally taking the monies he has admitted to. It has nothing to do with the school board. He is committed to the children there. He’s committed to the schools,” defense attorney Joseph Conway said.
Stith is a familiar face in Hempstead as a school trustee in a district with a $200 million budget, yet one of the lowest graduation rates in the nation. His guilty plea to two misdemeanors means he will he will serve no jail time, though he was sentenced to three years’ probation. He must do community service, restitution and must resign as a Hempstead police officer.
Prosecutors said he betrayed the public trust.
CBS2 has been following the bitterly fractured Hempstead School District for years. It is still embroiled in a legal battle over its ousted superintendent.
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The plea is unlikely to affect the power balance. A felony conviction brings an automatic dismissal from a school board, but not a misdemeanor.
“Let’s say the board says, ‘Well, what he did was problematic. It wasn’t a felony. We’re going to let that person remain on the board.’ That matter wouldn’t automatically go to the commissioner unless someone appealed it to her,” said Jay Wolson, general counsel for the New York School Boards Association.
The current board has been supportive of Stith. One trustee left court without comment.
The judge said the matter was resolved in a way that was “rather beneficial to Mr. Stith.” He could have faced up to seven years if he was convicted of the original charges.