Academic Success center executives charged with embezzling $1.8 million for after-school programs

Tony Bell and Barbara Harris, of the Center for Community Academic Success Partnerships in South Holland, were indicted in federal court Monday for allegedly taking money intended for enrichment programs.

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The embezzled money came from government grants and other funds for after-school enrichment programs, a federal indictment said.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Two Chicago nonprofit executives were charged with embezzling $1.8 million intended to support underprivileged youth, federal prosecutors said Tuesday.

Tony Bell, executive director of the Center for Community Academic Success Partnerships, and project manager Barbara Harris were charged Monday for taking money intended for after-school enrichment programs.

The looted money came from government grants and other funds. While the center, based in South Holland, did provide some programming, it was not to the extent they claimed, prosecutors said.

The pair allegedly funneled about $1.3 million of the grant money to their own bank accounts; $437,000 to pay Bell’s credit card balances; and $130,000 to write several checks made payable to an account the two falsely claimed was a subcontractor of the nonprofit, the indictment states.

The pair then used checks to get cash or to purchase money orders, prosecutor said.

From 2012 to 2017, the indictment says, the two submitted fake grant applications that overstated the organization’s projected yearly expenses to the federal 21st Century Community Learning Centers Program, which was then administered by the Illinois State Board of Education. They also allegedly fabricated the names of subcontractors and opened up false bank accounts for them.

No one answered a call to a number listed for the partnership Tuesday. Harris also hung up when reached by phone.

They were indicted in U.S. District Court on Monday and charged with conspiracy, money laundering, and wire fraud, prosecutors said in a news release.

Financial documents from past years show that Harris was executive director of the organization for some of the years the pair was accused of misappropriating funds.

Arraignments have not yet been scheduled.


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