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Defense: Ex-Gary schools chief had no intent to steal from cash-strapped school district

Defense: Ex-Gary schools chief had no intent to steal from cash-strapped school district

From the This week in local crime news: No bones about it: Family behind Scooter's Barbecue wants stolen smoker back series

CROWN POINT — Scott King, a veteran criminal defense attorney, will represent the former Gary Community Schools Corp. superintendent on allegations she double billed the school district for a luxury junket in California.

King and defense attorney Russell Brown Jr. filed their appearances Tuesday in Lake Criminal Court on behalf of Cheryl Pruitt. The men are partners in the King, Brown and Murdaugh law firm.

They also filed a motion Tuesday requesting the court permit Pruitt to travel to Illinois for employment purposes while she is free from custody on a $20,000 surety bond. The request was granted by Magistrate Judge Natalie Bokota. 

King said Wednesday he had questions about Pruitt's case after reviewing her criminal charges.

“From looking at this, I will be really intrigued to see how this jumped so quickly to a criminal prosecution, when it looks at this juncture like it was a bookkeeping error, as opposed to any kind of intent for anybody to defraud anybody,” he said.

Pruitt, 55, was charged Friday with theft and official misconduct, level 6 felonies, on allegations she double billed the cash-strapped school district for a three-day education conference she attended in May 2016.

Pruitt allegedly charged $1,504 to a district credit card for a three-night hotel stay, dry cleaning fees, two spa/massage appointments, two meals, a taxi ride and miscellaneous taxes, records state.

The district's finance department paid off the credit card using money from the district's extra-curricular account, but also separately paid Pruitt $1,256 after she submitted a voucher seeking personal reimbursement for a portion of the trip expenses, records state.

Pruitt said under questioning by the FBI she generally charged everything, excluding hotel and flight expenses, to her personal credit card, and then submitted receipts to her secretary for reimbursement.

She admitted the school paid twice for the Los Angeles trip, but it was not done “intentionally or maliciously,” records state.

Pruitt served as superintendent from July 1, 2012, until her resignation in February, more than a year before her contract was scheduled to end.

The Gary Community School Corp. is under control by the Indiana Distressed Unit Appeals Board because of the district's significant debts and poor academic results.

Pruitt is scheduled for an initial court hearing Oct. 22. 


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Lake County Courts and Social Justice Reporter

Steve covers Lake County courts and social justice issues for The Times. The UW-Milwaukee graduate joined The Times in 2016 after reporting on criminal justice in New Mexico and Wisconsin.

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