CROWN POINT — An attorney for a former Gary school superintendent charged with theft from the district as it faced state takeover says he needs more time to gather documents and possibly resolve Cheryl Pruitt's criminal case.

Pruitt, 55, appeared Wednesday before Lake Criminal Court Judge Diane Boswell with her attorney, Scott King.

Pruitt also is facing a civil lawsuit filed in November by the Indiana attorney general's office seeking more than $18,000 for penalties and funds Pruitt is accused of wrongfully receiving or diverting from the cash-strapped Gary Community School Corp.

Lake Superior Court Special Judge William Davis earlier this month gave Pruitt until March 6 to file her response to the state's civil suit.

Russell Brown Jr., King's law partner and Pruitt's attorney in the civil suit, requested the extension because Pruitt needed more time to consider the ramifications her answer may have on the pending criminal case, records show.

Pruitt was released from jail Oct. 5 after posting a $1,945 cash bail, records show. 

She now lives in Cook County, King said. He asked Boswell to ensure bond records show Pruitt is allowed to live and travel in Illinois.

Boswell set Pruitt's next Lake Criminal Court hearing for April 16.

Civil suit mirrors audit

Pruitt was charged Oct. 5 with level 6 felony theft and misconduct counts alleging she deposited a $1,256 reimbursement from the district into her personal bank account after the district already had paid $1,617 from its extracurricular account to a district credit card to pay for her business trip in May 2016.

In mid-October, the State Board of Accounts released results of a special investigation audit and asked Pruitt to repay nearly $7,200 to the school district for inappropriate spending of taxpayer dollars.

The Indiana attorney general's office filed its lawsuit against Pruitt on Nov. 28 in Lake Superior Court.

In its complaint, the attorney general's office laid out the same allegations as those detailed in the State Board of Accounts audit.

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Besides the charges for the luxury junket in Los Angeles, Pruitt is accused of seeking $835 for mileage reimbursement in 2014, 2016 and 2017 despite receiving a $1,000 monthly automobile allowance under her contract.

The state also alleges Pruitt inappropriately used the district's extracurricular account fund to pay $850 in fees to change airline tickets for herself and her daughter during a district trip to Beijing in October 2014. 

Students, faculty and chaperones were to depart Oct. 17, 2014, but Pruitt exchanged the tickets so she and her daughter could depart Oct. 19, with no explanation given, the audit says.

Pruitt also inappropriately used a district credit card to upgrade the seats at a cost of $358, records state.

State seeks triple damages

When the FBI questioned Pruitt about her May 2016 stay at the Omni Los Angeles Hotel, she said she generally charged everything, excluding hotel and flight expenses, to her personal credit card, and then submitted receipts to her secretary for reimbursement, court records say.

She admitted the school paid twice for the Los Angeles trip, but she said it was not done “intentionally or maliciously."

The State Board of Accounts' costs for the audit were $3,531, the suit says.

The district sustained a total loss of $3,664 as a result of Pruitt's actions, the lawsuit alleges. 

The state is entitled to seek three times the actual loss on behalf of the district, which totals $10,993, records say.

Pruitt served as superintendent from July 1, 2012, until her resignation in February 2018, more than a year before her contract was scheduled to end.

In April, Pruitt agreed to repay a $30,000 bonus that she said had been approved by the School Board in March 2016.

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Lake County Courts and Social Justice Reporter

Sarah covers crime, federal courts and breaking news for The Times. She joined the paper in 2004 after graduating from Purdue University Calumet.