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No Ruling on Then-Superintendent's Use of Racist Texts

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The Philadelphia Inquirer

 

With opening statements to begin Monday in the case of a former Chester County superintendent charged with theft and ethics violations, the presiding judge on Wednesday did not rule on whether prosecutors could introduce as evidence racist text messages the defendant sent.

Instead, Chester County Court Judge Thomas G. Gavin cautioned opposing attorneys to be careful what they tell the jury they expect to prove at the trial of Richard Como, a former superintendent of the Coatesville Area School District.

At a hearing in West Chester during which he did not mention the racist texts, Gavin said he would address any issues of what evidence could be presented as the trial proceeds.

Como, 70, is accused of using school funds to pay for football championship rings for himself and others, nepotism in hiring, and selling his personal generator to the district, which prosecutors say constitutes a conflict of interest. He faces more than 40 charges.

Lawyers for Como reiterated Wednesday that their client may have violated school codes through acts that included not following procedures when transferring funds, but they said he should not have been prosecuted. Como was not "out in the streets with [the money] in his pocket," said Albert Sardella, one of Como's attorneys.

Prosecutors argued that Como controlled finances that were not his to control. "He physically had his fingers on a lot of this money," Deputy District Attorney Thomas Ost-Prisco said.

Prosecutors spent much of Wednesday's hearing arguing that the Coatesville school board's hiring of Como's son constituted a conflict of interest, but the judge evidently was skeptical.

Gavin is allowing the criminal case to move forward, and jury selection is scheduled to begin Monday morning.

A major question has been whether he will allow prosecutors to mention racist and sexist text messages about students and staff that Como sent while superintendent.

Como's attorneys said the texts were irrelevant to the charges against him. Prosecutors said they intended to use them as a rebuttal if Como's lawyers portrayed him as "a generous and beneficial person concerned solely with his students," according to court documents.

Como, a former high school principal and head football coach, resigned from the top position in the Coatesville school district in 2013 after school officials found the text messages he had exchanged with an athletic director. He had been superintendent since 2005.

After the text messages were made public three years ago, the Chester County District Attorney's Office also revealed that it was investigating the school district's management and finances.

Two years ago, Como and athletic director Jim Donato were arrested and charged with theft and conflict of interest.

Donato pleaded guilty this summer to stealing $15,000 from the school district and was sentenced to at least two months in prison.

mbond@philly.com

610-313-8207 @MichaelleBond

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January 5, 2017
 
 
 

 

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