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Deerwood saga ends with no payback

Jeffrey Ryan Alcantara is sentenced to 30 months in state prison, but taxpayers will not likely see the $80,000 he took from the charter school.

By JAMAL THALJI
Published August 26, 2006


NEW PORT RICHEY - Even in the end, Jeffrey Ryan Alcantara was still looking out for No. 1.

Students and parents were shattered when Deerwood Academy financially imploded in October 2003. Teachers lost their jobs, and taxpayers are still out $80,000.

Last year Alcantara, the convicted felon responsible for the charter school's demise, pleaded guilty to racketeering.

His long-awaited sentencing was Friday. But there was no apology for spending public money on strippers and an $11,000 Rolex watch. There was no sign of contrition for embezzling from school accounts. There wasn't an attempt to repay the missing thousands, which he once said he would try to do.

Alcantara's only care was that his 30-month state prison sentence not interfere with his 27-month federal prison sentence.

Alcantara told the judge his main concern is that he be allowed to serve the sentences at the same time.

A federal judge sentenced him Aug. 4 because his June 2003 arrest on state charges violated his federal probation on unrelated fraud charges. His state and federal sentences won't start until he's booked into both systems. The defendant feared he might spend more time behind bars if something goes wrong.

Circuit Judge Stanley Mills promised Alcantara he wouldn't let that happen.

"I'm not going to cheat you," the judge told the defendant. "I'm not going to give you a pat on the hand and a gold citizenship star. But I'm not going to cheat you."

Alcantara, 53, has a 20-year criminal history of fraud, theft and drug charges in three states. But that wasn't discovered until after he was hired to help set up the Port Richey charter school in 2001.

A series of articles in the St. Petersburg Times detailed the financial irregularities that resulted, and in 2002, the school's accounts were under investigation. False invoices and inflated receipts were discovered, as was $48,000 in checks written to cash.

At one time the school had more than 200 students and had received more than $1-million in public funds.

Now another of Pasco's six privately-run, publicly-financed charter schools faces scrutiny.

The Pasco Sheriff's Office has launched a criminal investigation of the Language Academy in New Port Richey. Superintendent Heather Fiorentino asked for the inquiry after allegations of embezzlement were reported to the school district. Fiorentino thinks the school is about $150,000 in debt and up to $500,000 could be unaccounted for.

In the Deerwood case, Alcantara once faced dozens of felony charges. But a plea bargain was struck when the credibility of the state's top witness was tarnished by a 20-year prison term in Pinellas on unrelated robbery charges.

Alcantara would have received only 22 months in state prison if he had paid back the $80,000, which he did not. Instead, a lien was placed against him, and if somehow the money is ever collected the beneficiary will be the Pasco County School District.

It was an unsatisfactory end to the Deerwood saga to Mary Tillman. The district's director of employee benefits once helped investigate the school's financial woes.

"I just think its unfortunate the taxpayers aren't going to get their money back," she said. "It's a long time coming, but it's a shame we're not going to see any money back."

[Last modified August 26, 2006, 06:22:58]


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