A gay man who was mayor of Hyattsville, Md., has been accused of embezzling $2.2 million from a charter school network in Washington, D.C.
A lawsuit from the U.S. Department of Justice alleges that Kevin Ward, who died by suicide in January, embezzled the funds while working as senior director of technology for KIPP DC, one of the biggest charter networks in the city, the Washington Blade reports. It was filed Monday in U.S. District Court in D.C.
It charges that Ward used the funds "to purchase property in West Virginia, at least 10 cars, and art and sports memorabilia," according to the Blade. The federal government has seized the cars and memorabilia. It is not yet seeking to seize the two houses in West Virginia that Ward allegedly bought with the embezzled money.
Ward worked for KIPP DC from 2017 to June 2021. During that time he created two technology companies, Tenret Tech and Vast Systems, that supposedly sold computers. With the need for laptops and tablets created by remote learning at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, they benefited from the charter school network.
"Between April 2020 and October 2021, KIPP DC paid Tenret Tech and Vast Systems ... approximately $2.2 million for laptops, tablets, and related services, all of which were arranged for and approved by Ward," the lawsuit says, adding that "none of the products or services which KIPP DC paid Tenret Tech were provided or delivered to KIPP DC." Officials with the network discovered this during an internal review last year.
Ward was well thought of in the region. He had served two terms on the Hyattsville City Council, then became acting mayor January 1, 2021, when Mayor Candace Hollingsworth resigned. In a special election, voters chose him to finish out Hollingsworth's term, which goes through 2023.
He was found dead of a gunshot wound January 25 in a park in McLean, Va. He was 44. At the time, at least one member of his extended family suggested his death was not suicide but murder.
He is survived by his husband and two teenage sons. His death brought tributes from city and county officials and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan. "Ward was beloved by many Hyattsville residents, who after his death displayed purple lights and ribbons from their homes in memory of their late mayor and his favorite color," The Washington Post notes.
KIPP officials told the Post they had received $1 million through insurance to make up for part of the embezzled funds, and they hoped to receive $800,000 more through the DOJ's action. They said the loss "was an isolated incident conducted by a single individual who took advantage of extraordinary circumstances during the pandemic and the individual's role as head of technology."
If you are having thoughts of suicide or are concerned that someone you know may be, resources are available to help. The 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988 is for people of all ages and identities. Trans Lifeline, designed for transgender or gender-nonconforming people, can be reached at (877) 565-8860. The lifeline also provides resources to help with other crises, such as domestic violence situations. The Trevor Project Lifeline, for LGBTQ+ youth (ages 24 and younger), can be reached at (866) 488-7386. Users can also access chat services at TheTrevorProject.org/Help or text START to 678678.