UTICA, NY (WUTR/WFXV/WPNY) –Utica City School District superintendent Bruce Karam has been arrested on Tuesday, November 21 for misappropriating funds, according to a release by New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli and Oneida County District Attorney Scott McNamara.
Karam — along with former Utica Mayor Louis LaPolla — were charged with allegedly using taxpayer funds to pay for political campaigns and a non-school related fundraiser.
Investigators with the Oneida County District Attorney, the State Comptroller and the New York State Police determined that Karam was using school money and resources to send election mailers. Those mailers were in support of school board candidates that he favored and that determined his contract, salary and authority.
“The diversion of funds meant to support the education and well-being of students by high-ranking school officials is an appalling betrayal of the public trust,” DiNapoli said in a statement. “Instead of serving the students of the district who they were duty-bound to help, these two defendants allegedly chose to serve themselves. Thanks to my partnership with District Attorney McNamara and the State Police they will now be held accountable for their crimes.”
He was also accused of allegedly using school resources to send invitations for a fundraiser for a purported charity run by LaPolla. LaPolla was arrested by the FBI in September on mail fraud charges stemming from that charity.
Fliers from that fundraiser were also allegedly inserted by district employees. According to the district attorney, LaPolla was aware those resources were being used on his behalf.
According to McNamara, Karam allegedly tried to cover up his actions by attempting to persuade employees to say those resources were being used for a valid purpose.
“These individuals deliberately stole funds intended to enrich education for students of the Utica City School District, all for personal fulfillment,” State Police Acting Superintendent Dominick Chiumento said in a statement. “Because of the strong collaboration among law enforcement, we were able to expose this fraud. I thank the Comptroller’s office and Oneida County District Attorney’s Office for their partnership in these arrests. The State Police will continue to hold those accountable whose actions hurt our community, and the well-being of children.”
According to the state comptroller, the value of all the misappropriated funds totaled over $14,000, including almost $10,000 in stamps.
Karam and LaPolla were both arraigned in Oneida County Court. They are both being charged with:
- fourth-degree Grand Larceny, a Class E felony, and
- Public Corruption.
Karam was charged with additional counts of those two charges, as well as a charge of third-degree Corruption of the Government, which is also a Class E felony.
Both Karam and LaPolla are scheduled to return to Oneida County Court on Friday, December 1.
UPDATE (4:36 PM, November 21): The Utica City School District Board of Education has released a statement regarding Karam’s arrest:
“While both Mr. Karam and Mr. LaPolla are entitled to their day in court, we recognize that the bond of trust between the Utica City School District and our community has been violated,” the district said in a statement. “We, the current UCSD Board of Education, deeply regret this breach and extend our sincere apologies to our students, staff, parents, and community. We continue to cooperate with the ongoing investigations into Mr. Karam and Mr. LaPolla, and we will defer to the District Attorney and law enforcement regarding the ongoing legal proceedings. We will provide timely updates to ensure our community remains informed.”
“Regarding Mr. Karam’s employment with the Utica City School District, from the moment he was placed on leave in October 2022, the Board of Education has worked with legal counsel and sought judicial intervention to resolve a dispute regarding the District’s ability to terminate its employment relationship with him. The District defeated Mr. Karam in his first lawsuit filed in state court and it was dismissed. The District is awaiting the court’s decision on the motion to dismiss Mr. Karam’s second lawsuit filed in federal court. “
“The District filed its own lawsuit requesting that the court declare his purported employment contract void, which would confirm the Board’s ability to terminate his employment by a simple majority vote. The District’s leadership team will continue to carefully analyze appropriate options regarding Mr. Karam with due regard for developments in the pending litigation and the District’s operational needs and goals. We have notified Mr. Karam that we have called a special Board of Education meeting for Monday, November 27, 2023, to address his employment with the Utica City School District.”
“In our unwavering commitment to the education and development of our students, the Utica City School District Board of Education, along with our district leadership team, also recognizes the immense fiduciary responsibility we owe to our taxpayers and community. The trust placed in us is both an honor and an obligation. As we navigate the challenges ahead, we pledge not only to uphold these dual commitments but also to continuously strive for improvement. We are deeply grateful for the community’s support and patience during this evolving situation and are dedicated to ensuring that our actions reflect our commitment to do better going forward.”