The former executive director of a Los Angeles charter school outfit faces sentencing Wednesday on 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.
Janis Bucknor, 53, of Baldwin Hills, who ran the for-profit Community Preparatory Academy charter school and controlled several related entities, pleaded guilty in February to one count of theft, embezzlement and intentional misapplication of funds from an organization receiving federal funds and one count of tax evasion.
She faces up to 15 years in federal prison, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
As part of her plea agreement, Bucknor agreed to forfeit her interest in three residential properties in South Los Angeles that were paid for with funds taken from CPA, which 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 stole more than $3.1 million from CPA, according to an 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 that time period.
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.
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.