The former executive director of a Los Angeles charter school outfit agreed Friday to plead guilty to criminal theft and tax fraud charges for stealing more than $3.1 million that should have been spent on school operations, but instead financed Disney cruises and theme park admissions, federal prosecutors announced.
Janis Bucknor, 52, of Baldwin Hills, who ran the for-profit Community Preparatory Academy charter school and controlled several related entities, entered into a plea agreement on the same day that charges were filed in federal court in Los Angeles, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Bucknor, who is charged with one count of theft, embezzlement and intentional misapplication of funds from an organization receiving federal funds, and one count of tax evasion for the tax year 2016, faces up to 15 years in federal prison, prosecutors said.
As part of the plea agreement, she agreed to forfeit her interest in three residential properties in South Los Angeles that were paid for with funds stolen from the charter school, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
The court has yet to schedule any hearing dates in the case.
CPA operated two schools, one in Carson and one in South Los Angeles.
Prosecutors said that over the course of 5 1/2 years — from early 2014 through last November — Bucknor stole over $3.1 million from CPA, according to the most recent estimate of losses in the case. The amount of stolen funds is nearly one-third of all federal and state funding that went to CPA during the time, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
In her plea agreement, Bucknor admitted using the stolen funds to pay for, among other things, personal travel, restaurant meals, Amazon and Etsy purchases, and private school tuition for her children. She also admitted spending about $220,614 on Disney cruise line vacations, theme park admissions and other Disney-related expenses.
The scheme began to unravel in February 2018, when the LAUSD Charter School Division’s routine audit of CPA revealed that Bucknor used the CPA accounts for personal expenses, including unauthorized payments directly from some of the accounts to Disney, Louis Vuitton, the Girl Scouts, Ticketmaster, Uber, Baby Teeth Children’s Dentistry, Williams Sonoma, National American Miss pageants and Forest Lawn Mortuaries, all of which were for defendant’s own personal and unauthorized use and benefit, according to the plea agreement.
In relation to the tax evasion offense, Bucknor agreed to plead guilty to evading her 2016 taxes, but also admitted failing to pay the Internal Revenue Service $299,639 in taxes when she failed to report $1.3 million in income for the tax years 2015 through 2018.