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CPS Teachers Used Tax-Free Cards to Buy Big TVs, 'Three Stooges' DVDs, More

By Kelly Bauer | January 4, 2016 10:48am | Updated on January 5, 2016 10:00am
"The Three Stooges" DVDs were among items bought with tax-free cards by CPS employees.
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The Three Stooges

CHICAGO — Special tax-exempt cards allow approved Chicago Public Schools employees to buy school supplies tax free. 

But 13 teachers and school workers improperly used the tax-exempt cards to buy large-screen TVs, cellphones, fridges and more, a watchdog report has found.

One teacher bought "Three Stooges" DVDs. Another bought "Breaking Bad" DVDs, and, when questioned by investigators, claimed it would be beneficial for his students to watch.

The allegations, included in the CPS inspector general's year-end report, said teachers showed a copy of Chicago Public Schools' "Tax-Exempt Letter" to a "big-box retailer" to get a card that would allow them to buy items without tax.

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The Office of the Inspector General investigated 13 CPS employees who had used the tax-exempt card to buy items worth $3,000 or more.

The investigation showed 13 employees had used the cards to improperly buy about $101,500 worth of personal items tax free, according to the report. The cards are meant to be used for work and classroom items.

A computer technician who made $22,900 in tax-free purchases bought a Kindle Fire, iPad Mini, a Nintendo DS gaming system and allowed a friend to use the card for personal purchases, according to the report. He also told investigators he posted the card in the school so other employees could use it. He resigned and has been classified as a "do not hire."

A special education teacher who made $7,400 in tax-free purchases bought "The Three Stooges" DVD collection, an Apple TV and Beats Solo headphones, as well as some items for her classroom, according to the report. Dismissal charges against her are pending.

Some of the employees who were investigated "attempted to minimize their misconduct," according to the report: A woman who bought a GPS said she used it to get to school every day, and a man who bought an electric razor said "shaving made him look presentable in class." A teacher who bought "Breaking Bad" and "Star Wars" DVDs said they could be beneficial for students and could help with "student self-improvement."

Other employees said they had loaned their tax-exempt cards to family and friends and should not be responsible for what they purchased, according to the report.

The Office of the Inspector General has recommended discipline for the employees, suggested CPS train employees so they do not abuse the tax-exempt cards and suggested the "big-box retailer" invalidate all of CPS' tax-exempt cards unless they were authorized "as essential to CPS operations." All of the employees no longer work at CPS or are facing dismissal charges.

Here's a breakdown of what teachers bought tax-free, according to the inspector general:

♦ A number of gaming systems, including a Nintendo DS, Playstation 3 and several Xbox systems.
♦ In addition to "The Three Stooges" and "Breaking Bad" DVDs, workers bought "The Hunger Games," "Star Wars" and "The Wizard of Oz."
♦ A teacher outfitted his home with new appliances, buying a $2,600 fridge, a $2,250 fridge, a $1,060 washer/dryer combo, a $590 stove, a $450 washer, a $450 TV and a $400 TV. He also bought two $500 Xbox systems, an Ipad Mini, a laptop and other computer-equipment. He said his son might have bought some of the items.
♦ Another teacher bought a $550 vacuum, a $170 vacuum, a $890 steam washer, a $971 steam dryer, two $220 laundry pedestals, a $585 washer, a $675 dryer, a $500 tablet and a $500 iPad Air. One of the washer sets was for her mom, she told investigators.
♦ Similarly, another teacher told investigators he bought a TV for his aunt. He bought a $1,500 TV, a $900 TV, a $585 dryer, a $495 washer and a $350 home theater.
♦ One teacher said she bought some things, but she thinks her boyfriend made most of the purchases using her card: a $1,500, 70-inch TV, a $1,480, 70-inch TV, a $180 GPS, a $120 car stereo, a $60 car stereo, a $400 TV, a $200 Sony PlayStation 3, a $200 Xbox and "hundreds of dollars in video games and electronics accessories."
♦  One teacher bought a 70-inch, $1,908 TV, $649 iPad Air and two "educational computer tablets" for her kids.

Read the Inspector General's report:

Chicago Teachers Used Cards to Improperly Buy Items Tax-Free: Report


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