A former employee of a now-closed North Philadelphia charter school has been charged with embezzling more than $350,000.
Darnell Smith, the former chief financial officer of Khepera Charter School, misused the funds while earning a six-figure salary, Attorney General Josh Shapiro announced Friday.
On Smith’s watch, more than $200,000 was withheld from Khepera teachers’ paychecks for retirement funds, the attorney general said. But the money was never deposited into the Public School Employee Retirement System. An additional $370,000 in employer contributions was also never contributed to the system, Shapiro said.
Smith, who is also known as Darnell Sulaiman, embezzled a further $350,000 on top of the pension payments, Shapiro said.
“Darnell Smith was responsible for sustaining the place where children had the opportunity to learn and grow, and the grand jury found evidence that he took away their resources for personal gain,” Shapiro said in a statement. “It’s important that Pennsylvania know about the findings of the grand jury, and that Smith can’t swindle any other institutions.”
Smith’s failure to make the pension payments ultimately forced the Pennsylvania Department of Education to withhold payments to Khepera. Eventually, the school was unable to pay teachers or its rent.
The School Reform Commission ultimately recommended revoking Khepera’s charter for academic and financial problems. Smith never showed up to the hearing, and cut off contact with Khepera.
The school, which opened its doors in 2004, ultimately closed in 2019.