Richard Russo, a former teacher for the Palm Beach County School District, has been charged with grand theft and official misconduct after allegedly submitting payroll sheets while he was hospitalized with a serious illness, according to the Palm Beach State Attorney's Office.
A probable-cause affidavit states that Russo, 63, was assigned to be an adult-education teacher at night at Boca Raton High School, but according to two school district employees, Russo was very sick, hospitalized, and "almost died" -- in which he took several months off from teaching in the summer and fall of 2010.
In April of this year, investigators discovered Russo had been submitting payroll sheets throughout the time period, according to the report.
Russo didn't claim to be working in the Boca Raton school on the payroll sheets but did claim he worked 397.75 hours from July 30, 2010, to November 12, 2010, in "Other Adult Education Programs" for a total of $8,119.79, according to the report.
When police talked to Russo in June, he said that he was very sick while he was supposed to be working at the high school but was able to perform some of the duties he was assigned with the school district on an inconsistent basis, the report says.
Russo, who told police he was "under duress both financially and medically," claimed he probably worked about 50 percent of the hours he submitted on the payroll sheets and said he did it because he "had no benefits and needed the money," police say.
According to police, Russo said he was hospitalized on three separate occasions for a total of 12 days while he was falsifying his payroll documents and admitted he knowingly submitted false information.
The woman who was supposed to verify the payroll sheets told investigators she knew Russo wasn't working at the high school but didn't know he never worked the hours he submitted to her for approval.
The report states she told police Russo "works the entire year without having to be accountable for his activities" with the exception of the requirement to file a yearly report.
With that information in hand, the State Attorney's Office filed two felony charges against Russo -- grand theft and official misconduct -- which each carry maximum sentences of five years in prison.
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