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Former leaders of Houston charter school are accused of embezzling $2.6 million

Former leaders of Houston charter school are accused of embezzling $2.6 million

Founding superintendent of the Varnett Public School and her husband face federal charges of fraud, tax evasion and obstruction of justice.

The founding superintendent of a group of charter schools in Houston and her husband have been accused by a federal grand jury of embezzling more than $2.6 million from the schools.

Named in the 19-count indictment were Marian Annette Cluff, founding superintendent of The Varnett Public School, which has three elementary school campuses in Houston, and Alsie Cluff Jr., her husband, who was the facilities and operations manager for the schools.

Neither one is associated with the schools any longer, the Varnett Public School (VPS) says in a news release.

"VPS has been under entirely new leadership since August 2014," the school says. "In addition, the school board overseeing the school’s operations was entirely new for the 2014-2015 school year."

The Cluffs face charges of conspiracy, mail fraud, tax evasion and obstruction of justice. They allegedly stole more than $2.6 million in funds intended for operating the charter schools and their programs.

The two also are charged with evading about $851,845 in taxes on the money they received as a result of the scheme.

VPS Interim Superintendent Margaret Stroud says school officials are disheartened by the news of the alleged wrongdoing.

"However, we are moving forward and will focus on the four principles of our core beliefs: high student achievement, safety, respect, and common decency," Stroud says. "We are proud of our students’ and employees’ accomplishments over the past school year, and we are excited to continue our successes in the 2015-2016 school year.”

Federal prosecutors allege that the Cluffs used their positions with the charter schools to embezzle money by opening bank accounts not directly tied to the financial operation of the charter school;. They used the off-books accounts to divert school money for their own personal use and benefit and concealed the off-books accounts from the schools' office manager, external accountant and their income tax preparer.

The indictment says the Cluffs embezzled more than $1 million that had been submitted by parents of the students to pay for school field trips and student fundraisers. The Cluffs also allegedly diverted and concealed money received from vendors of the school, insurance companies and federal agencies.

In another  scheme spelled out in the indictment, Annette Cluff is accused of instructing the charter school’s building maintenance and landscaping contractor to submit false invoices for work that was never done. The school paid invoices of more than $115,000, and Mrs. Cluff allegedly told the contractor to return the money by writing checks to her personally. She subsequently told the contractor to lie to the FBI about the arrangement.

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