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School official who stole anti-poverty funds gets probation

Deborah Buckley's fall from grace ended Wednesday in a downtown Buffalo courtroom.

The former assistant school superintendent who admitted stealing from an anti-poverty program she oversaw was sentenced to two years probation.

As part of a plea deal, Buckley, 56, admitted taking part in a scheme that included her son, Hassan El Saddique, and involved fraudulent invoices that financed his job as a computer consultant with the Buffalo school district.

"I just ask for forgiveness from those I've harmed," Buckley told U.S. District Judge William M. Skretny.

Buckley was facing a recommended sentence of up to a year in prison, but Skretny pointed to her "genuine remorse" and her repayment of the $15,120 she stole in granting her request for leniency.

Court records also indicate Buckley is undergoing mental health treatment.

"I just ask that you have mercy," she told the judge Wednesday. "I"m having a real tough time."

Federal prosecutors did not oppose the judge's sentence, and Buckley's defense lawyer was quick to suggest that his his client has suffered enough.

"She breached her trust. She knows that," said defense attorney Herbert L. Greenman. "But she's been punished enough. She's paid her debt."

El Saddique, who also was charged in the scheme, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge and received a year of probation.

From Day One, the prosecution centered on Buckley and the allegation that she stole from a federally funded program intended to help low-income students and that she oversaw as assistant superintendent.

Investigators say the amount Buckley and her son stole - $15,120 - is relatively small in comparison to the overall size of the anti-poverty program, but suggested the thefts are symbolic of a bigger problem.

The prosecution also is seen by parent activists and other critics as evidence of a school district that was late discovering the thefts and, when it did, looked the other way.

For a year and a half, Buckley served as an assistant superintendent in the Buffalo district, overseeing more than $100 million a year in federal grants. That ended in September 2011, when she was escorted out of her City Hall office and placed on paid leave. She was eventually fired.

Her sentence is the result of an FBI investigation.

 

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