Lincoln Charter School principal to plead guilty in federal theft case

Aimee Ambrose
York Dispatch

The apparently now-former head of Lincoln Charter School allegedly misused federal education funds. He’s the second administrator from the school to face federal accusations of theft in the past two years.

Leonard Hart, 50, of Mount Wolf, was charged with theft of federal funds in a case filed in U.S. District Court in Harrisburg on Tuesday following an FBI investigation. A plea agreement was also filed, showing he would admit to the charge and waive indictment by a grand jury.

Hart is accused of fraudulently obtaining about $6,400 from the charter school and misusing the funds while he was principal and CEO in May 2018. The school had received more than $10,000 in U.S. Department of Education grants that year, according to the allegations.

Lincoln Charter School Principal Dr. Leonard Hart speaks during Donuts for Dads at Lincoln Charter School in York City, Tuesday, March 19, 2019. Dawn J. Sagert photo

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Charging information doesn’t state how the funds were used. The plea agreement filed in the case indicates a total loss of $55,311.

The maximum sentence for the theft charge is 10 years in federal prison, a $250,000 fine and three years' probation, federal prosecutors noted. The actual sentence will be decided after Hart enters his plea.

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The agreement calls for repaying the $55,311 as restitution, and if Hart repays at least $10,000 by sentencing, the prosecution will recommend the minimum term. The plea agreement was signed July 27, court documents show.

“Leonard Hart, throughout his career, has been an exceptional educator and fiercely dedicated to his students. Like all of us, he is also human, and capable of making mistakes,” Chris Ferro, Hart’s attorney, said in a statement, adding that the plea is a step toward making amends. “I am hopeful that, in time, we will have the opportunity to share additional details and factors that led to this out-of-context and isolated behavior.”

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CEO Dr. Leonard Hart, of Lincoln Charter School, speaks as the school celebrates School Choice week and 20 years offering education in York City, Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2020. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Ferro also said he expects Hart to enter his plea within the next month.

Hart apparently is no longer principal of Lincoln Charter. The school’s website doesn’t list him in its directory. The site also lists a job posting for a new principal.

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The case follows one against the school’s former operations manager, Eliseo Sierra, who pleaded guilty to a federal theft count after he was charged in May 2020. He was accused of embezzling more than $78,000 from the school in 2014.

Sierra was sentenced in March 2021 to five years of probation with an order to pay $61,337 in restitution. He paid back $16,000 prior to sentencing.

Much of the funding involved in the embezzlement came from education department grants.

— Reach Aimee Ambrose at aambrose@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @aimee_TYD.