By Elizabeth Hur
COATESVILLE, Pa., (CBS) — A school district rocked by a text message scandal — tonight, the school board is hearing from outraged parents following new revelations.
All this comes on the heels of a big announcement about the Coatesville Area School Board from the Chester County District Attorney.
Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan stated, “Every time we pick up something in Coatesville, we find something else to look at.”
The Coatesville Area School District Board, already under investigation for financial improprieties, according to the Chester County District Attorney, is delaying investigators from exposing the truth and hindering his investigation.
“As we’re looking at the rest of the investigation, all of a sudden, we had this obstruction going on, this repeated attempts to slow down the investigation and then people started bringing to our attention these legal fees and the other expenses that were being rung up by this law firm and that’s then what triggered this investigation,” Hogan said.
In response, the Coatesville School Board President Neil Campbell said, “I’m not a lawyer, I don’t know what we can legally hand over with people’s names, social security numbers and everything else, so that’s up to the lawyers to decide, I’m not a lawyer, that’s why we have a solicitor, that’s why we have legal counsel.”
Prosecutors agree and explained that’s precisely why they launched a new investigation into the board’s solicitor, James Ellison and his law firm: Rhoads & Sinon based in Harrisburg.
“We are investigating both for obstruction of justice and for whether or not the law firm and the solicitor were defrauding the school district, regarding the millions of dollars in legal fees that have been charged over the past few years,” Hogan went onto say, “This law firm has been representing the school district for approximately the last ten years. We’re also looking at some of the other individual expenses and some of the individual bills. These are bills you should not see from a school district, particularly a school district that is laying off teachers, a school district that doesn’t have the time or the money apparently to educate their students properly.”
This disheartening news for parents and tax payers, in a community rocked by the resignations of Schools Superintendent Richard Como and Athletic Director Jim Donato last month following the discovery of their racist and sexist text messages.
Hogan concluded, “We’re really following the money to see where it’s been spent, what it’s been spent on and whether or not it’s been approved by the school board.”
“I’m not really sure at this point, what we have not given him for him to come out and say we have not been cooperating but it is definitely my intent to continue to cooperate with him, it’s the only way to get past this. I definitely want to put this past us, lets find out whatever we have to find out and take care of the problem, it’s the greatest thing we can do for our students,” Campbell added, “I’ve been a board member for six years, I’ve sat next to Mr. Ellison, our solicitor for those entire six years and worked hand in hand with him, I have seen nothing as a board member that would result in me thinking any other way of the fact that he is an honest individual with high integrity, representing our district very well. What they know on the other side, I don’t know so I’m very interested to see what they have.”
We reached out to Ellison and his firm for comment:
“Rhoads & Sinon rejects any implication that the Chester County DA has made regarding alleged impropriety on our part. We, and the Coatesville Area School District, have cooperated and will continue to cooperate, with the D.A.’s investigation. All relevant evidence has been protected and preserved, and the School District has undertaken its own internal investigation into some of the same issues that apparently are the subject of the D.A.’s investigation. Thousands of pages of documents have been turned over to the D.A. so far. All unprivileged documents that the D.A. has the legal authority to request have been produced to him or are in the process of being produced. Rhoads & Sinon will continue to cooperate with the D.A.’s reasonable requests as he concludes his investigation.”
-Tom French, Rhoads & Sinon