Theft trials ordered for 2 former school district officials who resigned after texting scandal

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WEST CHESTER, Pennsylvania — Two former school district officials in southeastern Pennsylvania have been ordered to stand trial on theft charges stemming from a text-messaging scandal.

All charges against former Coatesville Area School District Athletic Director James Donato were held for trial following a preliminary hearing Friday in Chester County, the Daily Local News of West Chester (http://bit.ly/1NxCJhK ) reported. Earlier in the week, all but four counts were upheld against former Coatesville Superintendent Richard Como. Both were charged with theft of school district funds and violations of the state's ethics act for public employees.

Prosecutors say Como took money meant to pay for school football rings, received reimbursement for fraudulent expenses and transferred money into a secret district account to hide his illegal activity. Donato is accused of stealing thousands of dollars from the district by using his position to schedule "off the books" events and then pocketing the money instead of putting it into the district's account.

Donato's attorney, Daniel Bush, said many of the charges were "based on guesswork and speculation."

"After such a long and extensive investigation, I expected more, quite frankly," he told the newspaper. "We look forward to explaining things at the appropriate time."

Como's attorney, Paul Rubino, argued Tuesday that prosecutors had offered "very little evidence" that his client's actions as superintendent were illegal.

"There is no theft here, there is no deception, it happens all the time," Rubino said of the charges of diverting funds to pay for championship rings for the high school's football team.

Como and Donato resigned in September 2013 amid allegations they exchanged racist and sexist texts on their district cellphones. Prosecutors said material in the messages led to an investigation into possible financial improprieties.

Last year, District Attorney Thomas Hogan said the text messages exchanged by the pair "were of a shockingly racist nature" and "looked like something from 1813, not 2013."


Information from: Daily Local News, http://www.dailylocal.com

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