A plea hearing was delayed until Feb. 3 for the former executive director of a Los Angeles charter school who faces federal charges of criminal theft and tax fraud for allegedly stealing more than $3.1 million that should have been spent on school operations.
Janis Bucknor, 52, of Baldwin Hills, who ran the for-profit Community Preparatory Academy charter school and controlled several related entities, has agreed to plead guilty in Los Angeles federal court to one count of theft, embezzlement and intentional misapplication of funds from an organization receiving federal funds and one count of tax evasion, according to her plea deal.
After she pleads, she will face up to 15 years in federal prison at sentencing, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
As part of her plea deal, Bucknor agreed to forfeit her interest in three residential properties in South Los Angeles that were paid for with funds taken from the charter school.
CPA operated two schools, one in Carson and one in South Los Angeles.
Over the course of 5 1/2 years — from early 2014 through November 2019 — Bucknor allegedly stole more than $3.1 million from CPA, according to the most recent estimate of losses in the case. The amount of stolen funds is nearly a third of all federal and state funding that went to CPA during the time, prosecutors said.
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 admitted evading her 2016 taxes, but also admitted failing to pay the Internal Revenue Service nearly $300,000 in taxes when she failed to report $1.3 million in income for the tax years 2015 through 2018.