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Pre-School Operator Overcharged Government by Millions, Investigation Finds

By Katie Honan | March 12, 2014 10:04am
 Former NYPD detective Leopold McLean was convicted of attempted murder in Queens on May 23, 2014.
Former NYPD detective Leopold McLean was convicted of attempted murder in Queens on May 23, 2014.
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FLUSHING — The director of a pre-school program for children with special needs scammed the city and state out of millions of dollars by mischarging them and used the money to pay for personal items like makeup and furniture, investigators have found.

Cheon Park ran five publicly-funded centers for special needs children, called Bilingual SEIT and Preschool, which has headquarters in Flushing, according to Special Commissioner of Investigation Richard Condon.

The state Comptroller's office conducted an initial audit of Bilingual in 2011 to see if the school, which held multiple contracts with the Department of Education and the New York State Education Department, was overcharging the state.

Bilingual had a contract with the DOE from 2005 until 2012 to provide services for children ages 3 to 5 with cognitive, communication, social and emotional issues, investigators said.

The audit was completed in 2012 and then-Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli found that Park billed the city and state millions and spent hundreds of thousands on salaries of employees whose attendance couldn't be verified.

It also found that Park billed more than $795,000 on other services, including over $6,000 on bedroom furniture for his children and $887 on cosmetics.

The SCI began its own investigation last April and found that Park also created no-show jobs for friends and received "kickbacks" from the salaries paid to his employees, investigators said.

One employee reported that he gave Park 50 percent of his salary, which totaled $93,000 over three years, investigators found.

Investigators also found that the cleaner who worked at one of the Bilingual schools in Queens even traveled to Long Island to clean Park's home twice a week, receiving additional public dollars for the housework.

The DOE overpaid Park by $3.1 million, according to investigators, and hasn't received all the money yet.

The department stopped working with Bilingual before the 2012-2013 school year after the state comptroller's investigation, Condon said.

Park pleaded guilty on March 7 in federal court to one count of mail fraud and agreed to pay $2.1 million back to the DOE, as well as give up $1.9 million in profits he wrongfully gained, investigators said.

He will be sentenced in July and faces more than five years in prison.