Former Arkansas school administrator pleads guilty to mail fraud

  • A former Arkansas school district administrator pleaded guilty to mail fraud this week.
  • Prosecutors say Karen James spent more than $230,000 on personal items using district credit cards.
  • Part of his plea deal requires him to repay the funds as restitution.

A former school district administrator in Little Rock, Arkansas, pleaded guilty to mail fraud on Wednesday after spending more than $230,000 in school district funds on personal online purchases, according to a press release from the office of the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas.

Karen James, 48, served as director of early childhood education and elementary literacy for the Little Rock School District from 2010 to 2019. Prosecutors say James was issued two credit cards to perform purchases for early childhood programs throughout the district. The maps were funded by state and federal grants, the prosecutor’s office said.

District policy required James to sign several agreements stating that credit cards could not be used for personal purchases, nor could items purchased with district cards be sent to an individual’s home. .

But from August 2014 to August 2018, James spent more than $4,000 on bath mats, a recliner and other home items from Wayfair; bought nearly 2,500 items on Amazon, including clothing, makeup, knitting supplies, pet products and gift cards, for a total of more than $199,200; and spent more than $27,000 on 83 unauthorized PayPal purchases, prosecutors say.

During the four-year period, James spent $230,635.86 on personal expenses using district credit cards, according to the release.

The district required James to document every purchase made with the credit cards by recording individual transactions and providing a confirmation receipt.

In August 2018, the district discovered that James had submitted falsified receipts and transaction logs, prosecutors said. The fabricated receipts and logs had been altered to reflect authorized purchases, but upon further investigation, the school district was able to obtain the original receipts from the vendor, which revealed James’ deception.

Several of the items were shipped directly to James’ home, the prosecutor’s office said.

According to the Arkansas Times, James’ scheme was uncovered after a district security officer filed a police report regarding misuse of district credit cards. She was fired soon after but appealed and was allowed to resign in January 2019, the publication reported. She also lost her teaching license from Arkansas in September 2020, according to the Times.

James’ plea agreement requires that she return the funds to the Little Rock School District as restitution. A judge will sentence her at a later date, the prosecutor’s office said.

A lawyer for James declined to comment.

Martha K. Merrill