CROWN POINT — As Gary public schools sank in financial and performance disaster in 2016, the superintendent at the time is accused of double-billing taxpayers for a luxury junket.
Former Gary Community School Corp. superintendent Cheryl Pruitt now faces level 6 felony theft and misconduct charges.
Pruitt sought a reimbursement of $1,256 and deposited the money into her personal bank account after the district already had paid $1,617 from its extra-curricular account to a district credit card to pay for the trip, court records allege.
The criminal charges, filed Friday in Lake Criminal Court, center on Pruitt's three-night hotel stay in Los Angeles, which included $248 for several spa treatments, court records allege.
Pruitt attended an educational conference from May 3 to May 6 in Los Angeles and used a district credit card to pay $1,504 for her stay at the Omni Los Angeles Hotel, two spa and massage charges, two cafe visits, taxi rides and other expenses.
The trip occurred at a time the school district was mired in debt, struggling to make financial ends meet and teetering on an emergency takeover by the state.
After the trip, Pruitt signed and submitted an accounts-payable voucher May 26, 2016, so $1,617 could be transferred to the district credit card to pay for the matter, court records say.
Pruitt then submitted a second accounts-payable voucher — which was dated May 13, 2016, but not processed until June 21, 2016 — requesting a reimbursement of $1,256 to be directed to her, according to the court records. The school district already had paid that amount, minus the spa charges, to the district credit card.
Pruitt told an FBI special agent in August 2018 that she generally charged everything, except for hotel and flight expenses, to her personal credit card and subsequently would seek reimbursement from the district, court records state.
When presented with both accounts-payable vouchers, Pruitt admitted the school district paid twice for one expense but said "this was not something done intentionally or maliciously," according to court records.
Pruitt called officials several times in the days after the interview to say she could not have charged the Omni hotel expenses to her personal credit cards because she had poor credit with limits lower than expenses from the trip, court records allege.
Pruitt served as superintendent from July 1, 2012, until her resignation in February, more than a year before her contract was scheduled to end.
In April, she agreed to repay a $30,000 bonus that she said had been approved by the school board in March 2016.
The issue arose when the Indiana State Board of Accounts conducted a special audit and alleged Pruitt's 2012 contract referenced a growth incentive plan and bonus, but no plan was outlined and no dollar amount for a bonus was listed in the contract. The state audit said the money should be repaid.
The Gary Community School Corp. was the first school district to be taken over by the state after amassing more than $100 million in debt and producing poor academic results. As a result, it is under the authority of the Indiana Distressed Unit Appeals Board and a state contract emergency manager.
A warrant for Pruitt has been issued with bail set at $20,000, according to court documents, which list Pruitt as "at large."
Police have not returned calls as to whether Pruitt has been arrested or if she has turned herself in to authorities.