- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 28, 2006

Federal authorities have filed criminal charges against a former D.C. public school principal, saying he took kickbacks from a Maryland telecommunications contractor.

George W. Smitherman Jr., formerly principal of Moten Elementary School in Southeast, was indicted Wednesday in federal court in the District on bribery charges.

The indictment stems from a federal investigation of the school system’s use of government-issued credit cards.

Two others have been convicted on charges resulting from the investigation.

Prosecutors said Mr. Smitherman took kickbacks from Wiggins Telecommunications Inc. in exchange for his approval of phony invoices.

The company’s president, Charles Wiggins, and Moten Elementary’s former business manager, Lorrelle Dance, have pleaded guilty in the case.

Dance was sentenced to 18 months in prison.

Wiggins is awaiting sentencing, and a hearing in his case is scheduled for November.

If convicted, Mr. Smitherman, who is retired, faces up to 15 years in prison on bribery charges, as well as up to one year on a separate charge of illegally supplementing his salary.

Mr. Smitherman won praise and national attention for an experiment in which he placed girls and boys in separate classrooms.

He said the move helped improve test scores, and told a CNN anchor of the experiment that “sometimes we have to be risk-takers.”

Authorities said Mr. Smitherman oversaw the kickback scheme and took $11,000 from Wiggins in exchange for signing off on goods and services that were never provided to the school.

From 2001 to 2003, the school system paid Wiggins Telecommunications more than $300,000.

Wiggins collected another $60,000 through a shell company he created called Motts Sales and Service. Wiggins worked out of his home in Maryland.

Prosecutors say Mr. Smitherman introduced Wiggins to Dance, who handled procurement for several city elementary schools, including Moten.

In one meeting with Wiggins, Mr. Smitherman told a subordinate to type up invoices for phony services provided by the company, prosecutors say.

The principal also knew that Motts Sales and Service was a shell company created “for the sole purpose of funneling money” from the school system to Mr. Smitherman and Dance, authorities say.

Wiggins paid the kickbacks to Mr. Smitherman in two cashier’s checks totaling $9,000 and a personal check for $2,000, prosecutors say.

In exchange, Mr. Smitherman “ensured continued and lucrative business for Wiggins” with the school system, the indictment states.

Wiggins has been meeting with federal authorities and has cooperated in the investigation, a court memo states.

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