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Three boro janitors settle with DOE in fraud scheme

Photo by Christina Santucci
By Kelsey Durham

The city Department of Education has reached a seven-figure settlement with five former employees, including three from Queens, who admitted to defrauding the agency of hundreds of thousands of dollar, according to the DOE.

Frank Chambers and Michael Cunningham, of MS 158 in Bayside, are among the group of former custodial employees who have agreed to pay part of the $1.4 million restitution after pleading guilty to federal fraud charges stemming from the theft of several hundred thousand dollars in a defrauding scheme.

James Coppola, of IS 25 in Flushing, also pleaded guilty and has agreed to pay part of the cash restitution.

The three men were arrested in 2011 after special commissioner of investigation for the New York City School District Richard Condon discovered they were part of a scheme orchestrated by Trifon Radef, a former custodian at Roosevelt High School in the Bronx.

An April 2011 complaint filed by SCI alleged that Radef conspired with Nicanor Fernandez, former custodian at Truman High School in the Bronx, to create “no-show” job positions on the school’s payroll and pocketing the money. The complaint also alleged that Radef and Fernandez had employees submit payment requests for work they did not perform and for renovations done at personal properties in Queens owned by Radef.

All defendants except Radef, who died in 2011 shortly after his arrest, have pleaded guilty to defrauding the DOE and will collectively pay $351,900 in restitution. Fernandez has also agreed to an additional payment of $50,000 and the Radef estate will pay $1 million toward the city.

Reach reporter Kelsey Durham at 718-260-4573 or by e-mail at kdurham@cnglocal.com.

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