By Alex Robinson
The former owner of a Flushing pre-school for disabled children was sentenced to two years in prison last week after he pleaded guilty to stealing $2 million in government funding meant for student services.
Cheon Park, 46, of Manhasset, L.I., who pleaded to one count of mail fraud in March, was also sentenced to pay more than $2 million in forfeiture and restitution for illegally billing the state and city for expenditures at Bilingual SEIT & Preschool Inc., according to U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s office.
Park’s school, which was at 150-07 Northern Blvd., came under scrutiny in 2012 when state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli released an audit showing $1.5 million of the school’s funding had been improperly used to pay employees inflated salaries and to buy items that were never used in the school.
The audit showed Park billed the state for a number of personal expenses, including $186,819 to rent three buildings unrelated to the school, $60,280 for leases on three cars and $22,347 in interest expenses for his ex-wife’s loan.
DiNapoli also found Park had used $233,368 to pay 26 employees whose time and attendance could not be substantiated. The school paid Park’s ex-wife a salary of $369,081 over two years as Bilingual SEIT’s assistant executive director, but she actually performed the services of a payroll specialist, the audit said.
DiNapoli’s office determined her salary should be reduced by $107,380 over that time period.
“Cheon Park enriched himself and deprived children with physical, developmental and emotional disabilities of the help they need,” DiNapoli said last Thursday. “His conviction today stands as a warning for those who attempt to cheat taxpayers and instead use the money for their personal benefit. I’d like to thank U.S. Attorney Bharara for prosecuting this crime and working with my staff to bring Park to justice and recover stolen taxpayer money.”
After the comptroller’s report was released, the city Department of Education soon canceled its funding for the school, which closed its doors that September.
DiNapoli forwarded his findings to the Queens district attorney’s office, which then assisted Bharara in the subsequent investigation.
Investigators found Park also received kickbacks from individuals he paid who performed little or no work for the school, according to a criminal complaint filed by Bharara’s office.
At Park’s request, these individuals kicked back as much as 50 percent of their fraudulent salaries to him, the complaint said.
From 2005-12, Bilingual SEIT received approximately $94.5 million in federal, state and city funds, according to the complaint, during which time Park falsely represented the amount of compensation the school was giving its employees on financial statements.
He also arranged to have the school pay for his children’s tutoring, paid his ex-wife and ex-sister-in-law for work they never performed and even had a Bilingual SEIT employee come to clean his home twice a week, the complaint said.
“Cheon Park lined his pockets with millions of dollars meant to provide important services for special-needs children,” Bharara said last Thursday. “Today, he was made to pay for his crimes through federal prison time and restitution in the millions of dollars.”
Reach reporter Alex Robinson by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4566.