NEW ORLEANS — Police are investigating allegations that the commissioner of the city’s largest charter school sports league used another employee’s debit card to withdraw nearly $23,000 last fall, almost completely depleting the league’s bank account less than two months after it was first opened.
Dean Gancarz-Davies, treasurer of the New Orleans Charter School Athletic Association, filed a fraud complaint with the New Orleans Police Department on Tuesday, about an hour after WWL-TV showed up at his house to ask him why he hadn’t reported the case to authorities more than nine months after he discovered it.
The Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office confirmed Tuesday afternoon that the DA’s Economic Crimes Division was informed of “alleged misuse of funds within” the NOCSAA and requested an NOPD investigation.
Emails and documents provided to WWL-TV show that Contrina Edwards, a school administrator and volleyball coach, resigned as NOCSAA commissioner last month after she was accused of improperly withdrawing the money.
She agreed to meet with WWL-TV on Tuesday to give her side of the story, but didn’t show up. The station tracked her down at her job at Walter L. Cohen College Prep, which is about to start classes at the Edgar P. Harney School building in Central City.
Told that this was an opportunity to explain what happened, she said, “I know what my truth is and I’m not going to get on media and talk to anybody.”
After Hurricane Katrina, when most New Orleans public schools became charter schools, one charter organization, FirstLine Schools, created an independent sports league for middle schools. Last summer, Gancarz-Davies, the FirstLine athletic director, was asked to create a separate nonprofit to run the league.
The NOCSAA officially formed as a nonprofit on July 11, 2018.
The organization offers flag football, volleyball, basketball, baseball, softball, soccer and track and field for about 30 charter middle schools.
Gancarz-Davies said the league didn’t even have a bank account until Sept. 19, when he set one up at Regions Bank with an initial balance of $23,100. He said the withdrawals began less than a month later, after he gave his debit card and PIN number to Edwards so she could buy paint for a football field.
WWL-TV obtained a copy of a bank slip with Edwards’ signature, withdrawing $10,000 from the NOCSAA account on Oct. 18, 2018. Gancarz-Davies said he received an overdraft notice from the bank on Nov. 5. When he called the bank, thinking it was some mistake, he learned about the $10,000 withdrawal and another 23 ATM withdrawals totaling $12,743, Gancarz-Davies said.
WWL-TV requested an interview with Gancarz-Davies on Monday, but he declined. He wrote in emails that he was scared of losing his job and apologized in several emails to the news station and other board members for mishandling the situation.
Gancarz-Davies said in a written statement to WWL-TV that board president Kory Castine, a physical education teacher and former Tulane University basketball player, urged him to press charges when they first learned of the withdrawals.
Gancarz-Davies said he didn’t want to alert authorities because he believed that could make it harder to recover the money. Instead, he said, he confronted Edwards in November 2018 and got her to agree to pay the money back.
He said Edwards initially denied taking the money and was a no-show at two meetings.
“I finally met with the commissioner,” Gancarz-Davies wrote to WWL-TV. “Crying, she told me that it was her boyfriend that took the money and she, also, gave the $10,000 to him because he was in trouble.”
Edwards declined to answer questions from WWL-TV about the ex-boyfriend, but wrote in an email to other board members Monday: “Because of my bad judgment and trusting when I shouldn't have, this happened.”
Gancarz-Davies said Edwards agreed to repay the money in late November, but didn’t make her first partial payment of $4,000 until Feb. 4, Gancarz-Davies said. She paid back another $4,000 on March 23, he said. But she didn’t make any payments in April, May or June, he said.
In an email Monday, Gancarz-Davies said Edwards made her third $4,000 payment this week, leaving an unpaid balance of $10,743. He said he decided to use his own savings to cover that difference Monday.
Gancarz-Davies also acknowledged in emails to the other NOCSAA board members that he was supposed to have held quarterly board meetings under the nonprofit’s bylaws, but didn’t hold a single meeting until this past Saturday. That’s when he informed the other board members about the withdrawals.
Two of them, Corey McCloud and Ingrid Jackson, said they were attending their first board meeting. They told WWL-TV in interviews they were so upset by what they heard that they tendered their resignations.
Jackson said in her resignation letter that she couldn’t be associated with an organization that’s “operating in a manner that may be illegal.” McCloud sent a memo to the board Sunday demanding Edwards’ resignation, accusing Gancarz-Davies and the board president, Castine, of a cover-up and calling on them to resign. McCloud resigned Monday.
Castine resigned after the memo was sent but said he did nothing wrong. Like Edwards, he initially agreed to meet with WWL-TV and then failed to show up, but he left a written statement for a reporter saying, “I was made aware of Contrina Edwards’ actions and I immediately advised others to notify the authorities.”
Edwards wrote an email to the board Monday saying that Gancarz-Davies and Castine didn’t cover up for her and “should not be punished for my bad judgment.”
Gancarz-Davies is the only remaining member of the NOCSAA board. He said in his written statement to WWL-TV a new commissioner has been hired to take over from Edwards. He also wrote an email to the recently resigned board members Monday saying he hopes to stay on as treasurer long enough to make sure the league can keep functioning.
“Do I think I should be terminated(?)… Probably,” he acknowledged. “Is it feasible at this moment(?) I don’t think so, but I am willing to do what I can to make it happen.”
UPDATE AUG. 2: NOLA Public Schools reacted to the WWL-TV report with this statement:
"We value access to sports and activities for our students and appreciate the work of many organizations across the city who partner with our schools to provide services. NOLA-PS is disappointed to hear about the alleged depletion of New Orleans Charter School Athletic Association funds supporting local youth athletics."
The school system does not have direct authority over NOCSAA, but it says it has partnered with the New Orleans Recreation Development Commission to offer new middle and high school sports leagues.