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Crime & Justiceby Fern Shen7:26 pmApr 7, 20110

Tutoring company owner convicted of theft for fraudulently billing Baltimore schools

Above: Tracy Queen, of Reisterstown, scammed Baltimore schools out of more than $150,000 for tutoring that never happened, prosecutors said.

Tracy Queen, charged last year by state prosecutors with forging parents’ signatures and fraudulently billing Baltimore City Public Schools for tutoring that never took place, was convicted today of felony theft  in Baltimore County Circuit Court.

Queen, who ran Queen’s Mobile Education out of her Reisterstown home,  made no comment as the terms of her plea deal were disclosed before Judge John Grason Turnbull II. Senior Assistant State Prosecutor Shelly S. Glenn detailed a tutoring scam that bilked the school system out of $150,752 and cheated 250 city students out of nearly 4,000 hours of  tutoring over three years.

“A theft of this amount of money from the Baltimore City School System is, in itself, outrageous,” State Prosecutor Emmet C. Davis said, in a statement released today. “Even more egregious is the fact that over 250 city students, specifically identified as entitled to tutoring assistance,  were deprived of these services by Ms. Queen’s fraudulent scheme.”

Queen faces a maximum 15 years in prison and $15,000. The prosecutor said she intends to ask Turnbull for jail time, 10 years of probation and for Queen to repay the $150,752 she owes city schools. Sentencing before Turnbull is set for June 9.

Queen’s public defender, Jennifer B. Eist, said in a phone interview today that her 41-year-old client had recently started a job not in the education field. The case was marked by some unusual features, among them the fact that it was uncovered by a reporter, Joan Jacobson, who found that her signature had been forged showing tutoring for her son that never took place.

Story Published in Brew

Another striking moment: when outgoing State Prosecutor Robert A. Rohrbaugh, making one of his last local headlines before retiring,  blasted North Avenue officials for dragging their feet in the case and refusing to give up documents.

Months later and with the Queen prosecution winding down, that rancor had dissipated. Glenn said on the phone today that city schools “had fully cooperated and turned over voluminous amounts of records.”

Sensing that

"Something wasn't quite right" about the company supplying tutoring for her son, Joan Jacobson recalled. (Photo by Fern Shen)

City school official spokeswoman Edie House-Foster issued the following statement about the matter today via email. “Baltimore City Public Schools thanks the Maryland State Prosecutor’s Office for its diligence in pursing this case. Fraud is an egregious act, especially when it is carried out against our community’s most vulnerable members, our children. We  will continue to partner with the State’s Attorney’s Office and our many other partner  institutions to advocate forcefully on behalf of our kids.”

Jacobson (a contributor to The Brew who first publicly disclosed her experience in a post on this site) said today she is relieved to have the case concluded but still wonders whether school officials have put in place oversight to prevent similar scams.

“The real question,” she said, “is what has the city school system done to prevent this from happening again?”

Irregularities Raised Questions

As the story is told in the “statement of fact” on file as part of the prosecution’s case, Jacobson first realized there might be a problem with Queens Mobile in 2009, when the woman tutoring her son told her she would have to stop because Queens Mobile hadn’t paid her.

Subsequent conversations with city schools revealed that Queens Mobile had submitted documents stating that her son had received tutoring from a woman Jacobson didn’t know for tutoring sessions that had never occurred.

Concerned that city schools might not be taking action to protect other parents, Jacobson contacted the office of the State Prosecutor. Their investigation revealed a pattern.

“Over the course of 17 interviews with students and their parents, it was discovered that they all had similar stories, either they had never been contacted nor received tutoring, had been contacted about tutoring but no one followed up or received only a few of the tutoring hours due and the sessions were never completed,” according to the prosecutors’ statement. Signatures, it was discovered, had been forged.

“In total, these files represented tutoring for 250 students who never actually received mandated tutoring.”

Prosecutors said assembling a case initially brought to them by a reporter was helpful in some ways. Jacobson “gave us a lot of detail,” Glenn said, “so we were able to hit the ground running.”

“But mostly,” she said, “I think Joan was approaching this not as a reporter but as a mother.”

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