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SCHOOL BOARD HIRES AUDITOR TO PROBE GRANT ISSUE

The Buffalo Board of Education has hired a forensic accountant to help investigate the handling of the school district's grants.

Timothy McPoland is expected to begin work immediately, board members said, supplementing an investigation by the Erie County district attorney's office.

A certified public accountant, McPoland is an expert in white-collar crime and was one of the lead investigators in an embezzlement scandal in the Diocese of Buffalo a decade ago.

"We're choosing him because he has impeccable credentials in this area," said Board President Paul G. Buchanan, who selected McPoland. "We're getting the best person in town."

The board voted Dec. 23 to hire a forensic accountant, two days after board members learned that Erie County District Attorney Frank J. Clark was launching an investigation into reported irregularities over an $800,000 federal grant.

The case is expected to go before a grand jury soon. Sheila Johnson-Moore, a project administrator in the district's grants office, has been suspended with pay during the investigation.

Johnson-Moore devised a ghost consulting job, using the name of her sister, Shenita Johnson, to draw paychecks off the grant funds, according to police reports. Details of the alleged scheme came to light in police reports on the recent arrest of Johnson-Moore's daughter, Sheari Moore.

Sheari Moore has pleaded innocent to a felony charge of third-degree intimidation of a witness or a victim, and a misdemeanor charge of second-degree aggravated harassment. She allegedly threatened to kill Shenita Johnson if she cooperated in the investigation.

Shenita Johnson has said she knew nothing of the checks until the Internal Revenue Service inquired about the tax on $17,000 of income that was credited to her name and had originated with the Buffalo School District. In a recent interview with the Buffalo News, Shenita Johnson said she is cooperating fully with investigators.

School Superintendent James Harris and Johnson-Moore were the only two people in the district administering the grant, which allows for tremendous discretion in the use of its funds.

Clark has declined to comment on the case, citing the ongoing investigation.

In his only public comments about the investigation, Harris denied any knowledge of the alleged scheme, said accusations of impropriety are not unusual in such a large district, and said the district has a procedure for investigating them.

Other board members said Thursday they hope the hiring of McPoland will help bring the investigation to a swift conclusion.

"It's my sincere hope that he'll do a complete and thorough investigation," said East District Member Marlies Wesolowski.

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