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Aimee Ambrose
York Dispatch

The former principal of Lincoln Charter School lied about pursuing a doctoral degree while collecting funds for tuition over about two years, federal prosecutors said.

Leonard Hart, 50, of Mount Wolf, pleaded guilty to counts of fraud and misapplication of funds, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Harrisburg announced Thursday.

Hart is the second administrator from the school in York City to face federal theft accusations in the past two years.

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

Hart admitted that between 2018 and 2020 he submitted nearly 20 false and fraudulent requests for tuition reimbursement from the school through a program it offers to employees. He took about $55,000 in the process, the announcement says.

Prosecutors said he sought the funds while lying about taking courses from a few universities to get a doctorate. To support the claim, Hart allegedly falsified records and pressured a school employee to help him forge a diploma.

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As part of the plea, prosecutors said, Hart agreed to pay $55,311 in restitution. He was charged in August following an FBI investigation. A sentence apparently has not yet been ordered in the case.

School officials have not responded to requests for comment.

Hart's attorney, Christopher Ferro, said Hart intends to pay the funds back.

"Leonard Hart is an exceptional educator and has made caring for kids his life’s work.  Unfortunately, he is also a human being and not immune to challenges and mistakes," Ferro said. "He is committed to making amends for his conduct, paying full restitution, and using this experience as an opportunity to grow through adversity."

Lincoln Charter School receives U.S. Department of Education grants, primarily as Title I funding, which serves as assistance for schools with a large number of students from low-income backgrounds, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

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

Hart was Lincoln Charter’s principal and CEO from 2013 until November 2021, the announcement says.

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About a year after Hart started in that role, another administrator, Eliseo Sierra, embezzled more than $78,000 from the school, primarily federal Education Department grant money.

Sierra was charged in May 2020 and later pleaded guilty to a federal theft count.

He was sentenced in March 2021 to five years of probation and ordered to pay $61,337 in restitution. He paid back $16,000 prior to the sentencing.

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