A Midwood special-education school bilked taxpayers out of hundreds of thousands of dollars and used the money for inflated staff salaries and a lavish car for its executive, and now comptroller Thomas DiNapoli says the school should return the money. The state gave the Hebrew Institute for Deaf and Exceptional Children $11 million to reimburse operating costs for three years, but a recent audit found that the group spent more than $774,000 on unapproved salaries, staff meals, and even a luxury car.
The school took taxpayers for a ride, but the real victims are students, the comptroller said.
“The children in our special education programs need every dollar available to them and they are the ones who lose out when the schools fail to follow the rules for receiving taxpayer reimbursements,” DiNapoli said in a statement.
No one benefitted more than the school’s executive director Noah Brickman, the audit found.
The school charged the state more than $30,000 for the lease of two late-model Acuras used by Brickman, even though the car appeared to be his personal vehicle. And the group got taxpayers to give it $132,000 over three years toward Brickman’s salary, even though his $300,000-plus salary far exceeded limits set by the state, the report found.
The Hebrew Institute used nearly $200,000 in taxpayer money on lump-sum staff bonuses without providing adequate justification and it sent $132,000 to staffers working for programs that were not eligible for state reimbursement, the audit concluded.
School officials also could not provide necessary transaction invoices or details for $39,436 worth of expenses, including checks to Brickman, office supplies, and staff development and travel costs, auditors found.
Brickman did not respond to multiple calls for comment. The Hebrew Institute sent the state a letter explaining the spending, but auditors said the reasons were not good enough and that the school still needs to repay the $774,000.