Northeast Times

Couple claims innocence in school fraud case

Olesia (right) and Ham­let Gar­cia are shocked that they were ar­res­ted for theft and fraud after of­fer­ing to pay Lower Mo­re­land grade school sev­er­al times for their daugh­ter’s edu­ca­tion, but were turned away by the board of edu­ca­tion due to their daugh­ter’s ad­dress. (Maria Pouch­nikova)

A Somer­ton couple ac­cused of il­leg­ally en­rolling their daugh­ter in kinder­garten at a Lower Mo­re­land school waived their Dec. 19 tri­al court ar­raign­ment on felony theft charges mere weeks after part­ing ways with their de­fense at­tor­ney and hir­ing a new one.

Ham­let and Olesia Gar­cia con­tin­ue to main­tain their in­no­cence, claim­ing that their daugh­ter and the moth­er lived in Lower Mo­re­land when the girl began at­tend­ing classes at the town­ship’s Pine Road Ele­ment­ary School in Septem­ber 2011. The couple were sep­ar­ated at the time, they claim.

Pro­sec­utors con­tend that the girl and her moth­er ac­tu­ally lived in Phil­adelphia with the girl’s fath­er all along. The couple al­legedly fals­i­fied the girl’s ad­dress on en­roll­ment pa­per­work to send her to the sub­urb­an pub­lic school and, as a res­ult, stole al­most $11,000 in edu­ca­tion­al costs from Lower Mo­re­land tax­pay­ers, cov­er­ing the en­tire 2011-12 school year. Both par­ents are charged with theft of ser­vices and con­spir­acy.

In Novem­ber, the par­ents waived a pre­lim­in­ary hear­ing on those charges and, through their at­tor­ney at the time, in­dic­ated a will­ing­ness to pay the owed tu­ition. In ex­change for the resti­tu­tion, the Mont­gomery County dis­trict at­tor­ney’s of­fice offered to re­com­mend the case for a non-tri­al di­ver­sion­ary pro­gram. That is, the de­fend­ants would’ve likely served a pro­ba­tion­ary peri­od and avoided form­al con­vic­tions.

Non­ethe­less, Ham­let and Olesia Gar­cia — who both work at her in­de­pend­ent in­sur­ance firm in Bucks County — on Dec. 6 held a news con­fer­ence at the Phil­adelphia of­fice of state Rep. An­gel Cruz to de­mand that the charges be dropped and de­clare their ad­vocacy for school choice. A new de­fense at­tor­ney, Thomas Kenny, ap­peared along­side the couple.

As­sist­ant Dis­trict At­tor­ney John Walko told the North­east Times via tele­phone that the di­ver­sion­ary pro­gram of­fer re­mains on the table of­fi­cially and is rarely offered in felony-level cases.

No testi­mony or ar­gu­ment oc­curred dur­ing the Dec. 19 court ses­sion be­fore Com­mon Pleas Court Judge Wil­li­am T. Nich­olas in Nor­ris­town. A tri­al date has not been set. Walko and Kenny were ex­pect­ing to pro­ceed with the pre-tri­al ex­change of evid­ence known as dis­cov­ery.

The Gar­cias’ daugh­ter now at­tends first grade at a private school in Bucks County, the couple has said. ••

 

Ed­it­or’s note: There is no fam­ily re­la­tion between de­fense at­tor­ney Thomas Kenny and North­east Times re­port­er Wil­li­am Kenny.

You can reach at wkenny@bsmphilly.com.

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