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Former Maryland mayor who died in January accused of embezzling $2.2 million from DC charter school system

Kevin Ward, the former Maryland mayor who died by apparent suicide in January, has been accused of embezzling millions in public funds from one of the largest charter school systems in Washington, D.C., prior to his death, according to a new lawsuit.

The civil complaint, filed on Monday in D.C. federal court, alleges that Ward committed wire fraud and theft using government money that is awarded annually to KIPP DC. The charter school network is a subset of the district's wider public school system, encompassing 20 schools and eight campuses where roughly 7,000 students are enrolled on a tuition-free basis, the lawsuit states. It goes on to note that KIPP DC received more than $1.3 million in federal program grants between July of 2019 and June of 2020, and nearly 2 1/2 times that sum over the course of the next academic year.

Ward was the senior director of technology at KIPP DC until at least July of 2021, according to the complaint, which says that his responsibilities in that role included purchasing a range of "information technology products" for the charter school system, like computers, tablets, software and network services. Following the lawsuit's timeline for his departure, Ward left the position soon after he was elected mayor of Hyattsville that May. He had previously served two terms on the city council and stepped in as interim mayor when Candace Hollingsworth resigned, CBS affiliate WUSA reported.

During his tenure as KIPP DC's technology director, the lawsuit alleges that Ward placed orders for more than $2 million worth of school supplies — meant to accommodate the district's shift to remote learning amid the pandemic — from a fraudulent company and subsidiary that never delivered the materials. 

The company, identified as Tenret Tech, was registered with the Maryland State Department of Assessment and Taxation just one month into the pandemic and listed Ward as its authorized person and resident agent, which would give him license to manage contracts as well as tax and legal documents on behalf of the corporation, according to the complaint. Tenret Tech's primary address was allegedly Ward's residential address. 

The lawsuit claims that KIPP DC paid Tenret Tech and Vast Systems, an affiliate company also suspected to be fraudulent, about $2.2 million for laptops, tablets and related technology services through business dealings "arranged for and approved by Ward." 

It alleges that the money was deposited into two separate bank accounts and that Ward used it to purchase multiple cars as well as sports memorabilia, including limited edition artwork of athletes like Michael Jordan, Eli Manning and Jerry Rice. The lawsuit aims to seize the property that Ward allegedly acquired through unlawful means.

Ward, along with his husband and two sons, moved to Hyattsville in 2014. He was first elected to the city council in 2015, and later served as council vice president and council president. After serving as mayor of Hyattsville for less than one year, the 44-year-old was found dead in January from a gunshot wound that was apparently self-inflicted. Described as "a valued and trusted leader" who was "beloved" by the community in the city's announcement confirming his death, Ward was the first Black man elected mayor of Hyattsville and an advocate for voting rights and affordable housing, who called for additional support to local businesses harmed by the pandemic during his campaign, according to the Hyattsville Wire

Scott MacFarlane contributed to this report.

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