Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Nassau Board Tells Pair to Pay Up; Ex-School Official Owes Restitution

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Nassau Board Tells Pair to Pay Up; Ex-School Official Owes Restitution

Article excerpt

Byline: DEIRDRE CONNER

More than a decade after they defrauded the Nassau County school system, a former School Board member and former contractor still haven't paid a total of nearly $80,000 in restitution owed the district.

Now, at the urging of the state auditor and the School Board, the district is stepping up efforts to collect the debt.

After a federal investigation, Jimmy Franklin Tipton and the district's health insurance agent, Preston Coltrane, pleaded guilty to financial improprieties in 1999 and were ordered to pay the district $92,000. That's enough to pay the salaries of two veteran teachers or buy a new school bus.

As of last week, the district had received $13,164. The balance, about $79,000, is still owed. However, it is unknown how much each man owes of that amount, or how the original restitution order was divided between the two. The U.S. Attorney's Office, which is handling the restitution in the case, did not return phone calls last week.

The outstanding debt isn't going to bankrupt the 11,000-student school system, but officials said that isn't the point.

"From a financial standpoint, the money is money that we've been able to operate without for quite some time," Superintendent John Ruis said. "From my standpoint, it's a matter of fulfilling an obligation. It's the principle of it."

Still, in at least three financial audits, the Florida Auditor General's Office has admonished the district for not collecting the long-overdue money.

Ruis acknowledged the most recent report revived the effort to locate Tipton and Coltrane.

Tipton did not respond to repeated phone calls; Coltrane could not be reached for comment.

Tipton was in office less than two years when, in 1996, he used his influence on the board to keep Coltrane as the district's health insurance agent. School district staff had wanted to drop Coltrane's services.

Federal prosecutors said Coltrane then gave Tipton half his commissions, which totaled $92,000 in the two years following. …

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