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Ex-Buffalo school administrator’s son admits thefts from poverty program

The son of a former top administrator in Buffalo’s public schools admitted Wednesday to stealing money from an anti-poverty program run by his mother.

Hassan El Saddique, as part of a plea deal with federal prosecutors, acknowledged submitting fraudulent invoices to the school district for his no-show job as a computer consultant.

El Saddique’s guilty plea to a misdemeanor charge came just three weeks after his mother, former Assistant School Superintendent Debbie Buckley, admitted her role in the scheme.

At the heart of the case is Buckley’s admission that she stole from a federally funded program intended to help low-income students that she oversaw as assistant superintendent.

Investigators say the amount she and her son stole, about $15,000, 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.

Buckley, in her plea deal, did not admit to stealing a specific amount from the Title I anti-poverty program but investigators say it was about $15,000.

Court papers indicate El Saddique received the money in 18 separate paychecks totaling $15,120 and that, of those, 13 were deposited into two accounts controlled by Buckley.

The government also claims some of that money paid for services that El Saddique never provided to the district.

For the FBI agents who lead the investigation, the Buckley case was also noteworthy for the level of her scheming. In their court papers, they point to a series of steps she took to insure that her scheme could be carried out.

First and foremost, they note, was her decision to unilaterally alter the district’s approval process for payroll invoices. They claim she eliminated the need for a signature from an official at the nonpublic school where her son supposedly worked.

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. Then-Superintendent James A. Williams and other top administrators had for weeks privately discussed concerns that she was awarding contracts to relatives and letting relatives use properties that the district rented.

A month later, the School Board hired a law firm to investigate Buckley’s activities while serving as assistant superintendent of state and federal programs.

In April 2012, the district received the investigators’ report, which concluded that Buckley had directed more than $330,000 of federal grant money to benefit people and businesses close to her, including her son, her former stepsister and a tutoring business she had founded with her mother, according to an investigation commissioned by the school district.

Buckley is scheduled to be sentenced in September, and her maximum recommended sentence could be high as 12 months or as low as six months, depending on what U.S. District Judge William M. Skretny determines is the amount lost.

The plea agreement also spells out several alternatives, including home confinement, probation and community service.