Couple claims innocence in school fraud case
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.