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GRAND JURY LIKELY TO GET GRANT PROBE

A grand jury will likely be convened as part of the investigation into the possible mishandling of a federal grant in the Buffalo School District.

"It would be my opinion at this point that a grand jury would be looking at this," Erie County District Attorney Frank Clark said Monday. "Right now we're in the fact-gathering stage and will be for a week or so."

Clark would not elaborate on the possible scope of a grand jury investigation. He did, however, say the probe is expected to move quickly.

"When we look at something like this, I would say weeks rather than months, if it's confined to the facts brought to our attention last week," he said.

Clark began the investigation last week after Paul G. Buchanan, president of the Buffalo Board of Education, notified him about a possible irregularity in an $800,000 federal grant.

Sheila Johnson-Moore, a project administrator in the school district's grants office, has been placed on paid administrative leave in connection with the investigation.

Johnson-Moore and Superintendent James Harris were the only two people managing the grant, which allows for wide discretionary use of its funds.

Several School Board members declined to comment Monday on the possibility of a grand jury investigation, although Buchanan again pledged his cooperation with Clark.

The board plans to hire a forensic accountant with a specialty in embezzlement, fraud, forgery and other white-collar crimes, with the intention of having the accountant conduct an internal investigation.

Efforts to reach Harris by telephone were unsuccessful. A woman who answered the door at Johnson-Moore's Buffalo home said she was not in and would not have anything to say.

The investigation comes as Harris is in his final months as superintendent. The board advised him in August that his contract would not be renewed when it ends in July. Since then, Harris has been openly job-hunting. Last month, the Traverse City, Mich., School Board withdrew a job offer, saying Harris had missed a deadline to decide if he wanted to become the district's superintendent.

Harris also was recently a semifinalist for the position of chief financial officer of the Detroit Public Schools but did not make the finalist list.

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