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Charges dropped against former school chief

The Lake County Prosecutor’s Office recently dropped theft charges against former Gary School Superintendent Cheryl Pruitt.

The two felony counts involving theft and official misconduct were dismissed Monday, June 16, in Lake Superior Court Judge Diane Boswell’s courtroom.

Pruitt, 57, was represented by Merrillville attorney Scott King. King said the dismissal came after meeting with the prosecutor’s office and being able to prove that there was a mistake and that Pruitt had not participated in double billing. Pruitt had been charged with allegedly double billing the Gary School Corporation for three trips to conferences in Los Angeles three years ago.

She was accused of charging $1,504 to a district credit card for a three-night hotel stay, dry cleaning fees, two spa appointments, two meals, a taxi ride and miscellaneous taxes.

The district finance department paid the credit card, and Pruitt was accused of submitting a personal voucher for reimbursement for the trip and depositing the money in her account.

The allegations stemmed from an audit by the State Board of Accounts.

King successfully argued that Pruitt did not intentionally deposit the money in her account and that it was most likely a mistake by someone in the district’s finance department.

He noted that Pruitt submitted her reimbursement claim after the trip and more than a month after a reimbursement to her account. Then a second claim was filed by someone in the finance department and was approved.

After the audit findings were released, Pruitt paid the money back. Despite having the money back, the prosecutor’s office issued a warrant for Pruitt’s arrest.

King was able to convince the prosecutor that a mistake was made in the finance department and it was not an intentional billing on Pruitt’s part.

He noted that during the time of the error, Pruitt had been busy working to keep the school system from being taken over by the state.

With the criminal case out of the way, Pruitt faces a civil case. The civil case filed in the Indiana Attorney General’s office is seeking $18,000, including penalties and fines, against the former school chief.

With the criminal case behind them, King hopes that the state will follow and dismiss the suit. He is also seeking to initiate the expungement process.

Pruitt served as Superintendent of the Gary School Corporation from 2012 to 2017. She was the last superintendent to serve in that capacity prior to the state of Indiana taking over the school system due to outstanding debt and poor scholastic performance.

Under a state law, Gary schools are being run by an emergency management team.

In May 2018, Pruitt joined the Chicago Virtual Charter School as their CEO. On May 29, 2019, the school’s board of directors placed Pruitt on suspension and paid administrative leave.

The news of Pruitt’s arrest was carried on Chicago news broadcasts and weighed heavily on King’s client and was an embarrassment.

With the arrest and suspension from her job, King said that Pruitt had been put through a lot. “She’s been weary, so it’s been hard on her. We are glad that this aspect of the case has been concluded.”

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