No jail, no job for high school athletic director accused of taking $16k+ but not coaching

(As originally published with bells and whistles, Thu, October 27th 2022, 5:00 AM EDT)

BOCA RATON, Fla. (CBS12) — A high school athletic director in Palm Beach County is out of a job but won’t be going to jail on charges of grand theft and official misconduct.

This case had to do with supplementary payments that teachers get for extra work coaching athletics.

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Back on Feb. 25, 2019, the principal of Olympic Heights Community High School in Boca Raton sent a complaint to the district’s inspector general,

“alleging misappropriated athletic supplements by athletic director Cindy Lucia,” according to its report.

The inspector general’s office investigated. CBS12 News examined its 72-page report, dated Oct. 4, 2021.

It said the principal told investigators her secretary “brought it to her attention that one of the athletic supplements being utilized was for gender equity.”

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(The report later said Lucia told investigators, “Gender equity funds are funds that the school receives from the district that are strictly used to purchase items such as uniforms, supplies, paint that lines the field, and anything that will make female sports equal to male sports. The school receives $10,000 each year. Gender equity supplements are only for coaching.”)

“[The principal] stated Ms. Lucia was listed as the assistant girls’ junior varsity soccer coach and assistant director [a man] was listed as an assistant girls’ weightlifting coach. [The principal] stated she had a list of coaches for each sport, and neither Ms. Lucia nor [the assistant athletic director] had been coaches for the sports indicated.“

Ms. Lucia did not coach girls’ tennis or girls swimming as indicated on the supplement request document that was provided by Ms. Lucia.

“At that point, [the principal] asked [her secretary] to give her the athletic supplement list that was completed in the fall of 2018 by Cindy Lucia. [The principal] stated after reviewing the supplement request list, she discovered that Ms. Lucia did not coach girls’ tennis or girls swimming as indicated on the supplement request document that was provided by Ms. Lucia. [The principal] stated to her knowledge, there was no assistant for tennis. [An assistant principal] previously assisted the tennis coach and not Ms. Lucia.

the tennis season overlaps the softball season, which Ms. Lucia coaches, which she cannot coach two different sports at the same time.

“To [the principal]’s knowledge, the athletic supplements in question are girls’ tennis, girls’ swimming, and girls’ junior varsity soccer and wrestling. [The principal] stated the tennis season overlaps the softball season, which Ms. Lucia coaches, which she cannot coach two different sports at the same time. [The principal] stated Ms. Lucia attempted to put [the assistant athletic director] in as the girls weightlifting coach, but ultimately, [the principal] denied the request for both Ms. Lucia and [the assistant athletic director]. [The principal] stated [someone else] is the only coach for weightlifting and he does not have an assistant. [The principal] added that the only sport that Ms. Lucia legitimately coaches is softball.”

Investigators conducted interviews and looked through documents before concluding the allegation was substantiated.

The report said, “The OIG has determined the following:

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“Ms. Lucia was the athletic director before being removed from that position in March 2019.

“Ms. Lucia legitimately coached varsity softball.

“Ms. Lucia has been using gender equity supplements for sports that she has not coached.

“Ms. Lucia is not a certified athletic trainer and therefore, was not entitled to the yearly athletic trainer supplement for $562.

“In 2018, Ms. Lucia received the girls’ junior varsity wrestling supplement for $3,275; however, the authorized amount for junior varsity wrestling was $2,500. Ms. Lucia received a supplement equivalent to that of the head coach. Ms. Lucia did not coach wrestling.

does not appear to relate to striping the field, since tennis does not have a field.

“A tennis supplement for $1,925 was allocated by Ms. Lucia for [the assistant athletic director] which does not appear to relate to striping the field, since tennis does not have a field. Based on the testimony of tennis coach [name], he has never had an assistant coach.

“Per [the assistant athletic director], Ms. Lucia never helped him to stripe the athletic field.

“The volleyball supplement was being received by [another woman] for help with paperwork, preparing eligibility packets, etc.; however, Ms. Lucia stated she also helped with paperwork, etc.

the category of junior varsity for the swim team does not exist.

“Ms. Lucia received a junior varsity swimming coach supplement utilizing gender equity, but the category of junior varsity for the swim team does not exist.”

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The inspector general’s office had already referred the investigation to school police for a criminal investigation on June 19, 2019. That was more than three months before the date on its investigative report.

Eventually, on June 15, 2021, the state attorney filed charges and on June 18, Lucia turned herself in. Then, she was released on bond, pending her trial.

CBS12 News also looked at the probable cause affidavit from the school district’s police department.

An officer wrote that the principal’s secretary “made the following entries into the payroll program at the direction of the defendant:

“Girls’ swimming $2,500 Payment issued on December 16, 2016

“Wrestling $1,925 Payment issued on May 10, 2017

“Boys’ tennis assistant coach $1,925 Payment issued on May 19, 2017

“It should be noted, [the secretary] placed a form in the defendant’s in-house mailbox with a note asking who the tennis coaches would be, and it was returned with the defendant’s name handwritten in.

“For the 2017/2018 school year, the defendant provided a list to [the secretary] to have the coaching supplements entered.

“Girls’ swimming $2,500 Payment issued on December 15, 2017

“Wrestling $3,275 Payment issued on March 9, 2018

“Tennis $1,925 Payment issued on May 18, 2018”

It concluded, “The total amount of money paid out from December 16, 2016, through December 14, 2018, in coaching supplements the defendant was not authorized to receive totals $16,675.”

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Just last month — on Sept. 8, 2022, — school superintendent Mike Burke sent a “Notice of Recommendation for Termination of Employment” to Lucia’s home in Lake Worth Beach.

It said in part, “There is ‘just cause,’ which can be substantiated by clear and convincing evidence, to warrant your termination from your position as a Teacher ESE Coordinator. I will recommend your termination from employment at the Wednesday, September 21, 2022, School Board Meeting.”

Cindy Lucia asking to keep her job at school board meeting, Sept. 21, 2022. (WPEC)

CBS12 News anchor Luli Ortiz was at that meeting, in which Lucia, 61, got up and read a prepared statement.

She said in part, “I cannot to you the emotional rollercoaster I’ve been put on just because I’ve been compensated as directed and with approval by my principal for a job I performed and performed well for Olympic Heights.”

Then, she broke down.

She also got applause from her supporters.

CBS12 News checked with the Florida Department of Education and found Cindy Lucia is certified to teach four subject areas: math, exceptional student education, English for speakers of other languages, and elementary education.

She had been certified in athletic coaching until 2006.

Lucia has been certified with the state since 2001, with no disciplinary actions.

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