CORRECTION (Published 6/10/2012)
Tammerlin Drummond's column in the Local section misidentified the sons of St. Andrew Missionary Baptist Church Pastor Robert Lacy. Andrew Lacy, who also works at the church school, pleaded guilty to felony welfare fraud in 2004. His brother Robert Lacy Jr. received some of the contracts for federal education funds.

The pastor made me do it.

That's what a teenage girl told Will Evans when the California Watch reporter asked her why she was out soliciting donations for a West Oakland church at a BART station at night. She said that if she refused, she would get in trouble.

Evans would see kids asking strangers for money when he took BART home from work.

He smelled a rat and started digging.

What legitimate man of God sends children out into the streets at night in harm's way where they can be robbed and God knows what else to ask for money?

It wasn't fresh ground. Two years ago, a CBS report had raised disturbing questions about St. Andrew Missionary Baptist Church school and its fundraising practices. But nothing ever came of it.

Evans dug deeper. He discovered that the K-12 private school is run by Robert Lacy, a 79-year-old pastor who pleaded guilty to theft in 2007. According to court documents, the good reverend helped himself to his dead father's Social Security payments.

Just the sort of fellow you want molding impressionable young minds.


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But that was just the tip of the iceberg.

In an article that ran Tuesday in this newspaper, Evans laid out a compelling case that the church school has received tens of thousands of dollars in federal funds based on its apparent gross distortion of the school's enrollment numbers. If that were to be proved in a court of law, Lacy would be guilty of stealing government money yet again.

St. Andrew claimed in its request for funding to the Oakland Unified School District that the school had 195 students -- 61 of them low-income. The latter entitled them to draw on a separate pool of federal funds. Based on those numbers, Oakland Unified's Board of Education, which acts as a pass-through agency for disbursing federal education funds to private schools, allocated $50,000 to St. Andrew for 2011-12. The school got $173,500 during the previous four years.

St. Andrew didn't get the money directly. Rather, school officials were able to draw upon the funds to pay for supposedly "independent services." Carrie Banks, who married the pastor in 1999 and teaches K-3 at the school, and Lacy's son, Robert Jr., got most of the funds. According to OUSD records, Banks got a $19,500 contract in the 2010-11 school year. Lacy Jr., meanwhile, made $12,440. Plus he invoiced the district for $100 per hour for 30 hours to fix school computers.

That would be the same Robert Lacy Jr. who pleaded guilty to felony welfare fraud in 2004. School officials insist they have done nothing wrong, yet they have failed to explain the discrepancy in enrollment numbers.

There is a mountain of evidence suggesting that further investigation is warranted.

Last month, an Oakland fire inspector visited St. Andrew during school hours and found a grand total of 15 to 20 students on the premises. Did Gremlins get the other 175? Fire officials said the school isn't even allowed to have more than 58 people in its classrooms.

Evans parked outside the school in the morning and waited in his car to see who got dropped off.

He never saw more than 15 students.

The Oakland school district's initial response to Evans' damning report was to shirk any responsibility. Spokesman Troy Flint said OUSD -- which doled out the funds -- had no regulatory oversight over St. Andrew. Dozens of contracts are routinely approved as part of a consent calendar. The district, he said, does not have the resources to verify the legitimacy of those applying for federal funds.

Flint said that OUSD's position was that panhandling was not something school officials would encourage their students to do, but that St. Andrew parents had made a decision to allow their kids to participate.

"Something we find distasteful doesn't necessarily rise to the level of illegality," he said.

No, but I sure don't want my tax dollars going to support it.

What's clear is that no agency, local, state or federal, has responsibility for oversight of these federal education funds. For the unscrupulous, the grants are a license to steal.

Meanwhile, some parents and former students charge that Lacy Jr. has kicked and otherwise physically abused kids at the school. He denies it.

Thankfully, some OUSD board members are now calling for the district to investigate the charges.

OUSD ought to pull the plug on any future funding to St. Andrew pending further investigation. Then, if the recent news report turns out to be founded, immediately notify local and federal prosecutors of their findings.

Tammerlin Drummond is a columnist for the Bay Area News Group. Contact her at tdrummond@bayreanewsgroup.com or follow her at Twitter.com/tammerlin.