'Hitler' schools boss 'stole milk money'

9th September 2005 at 01:00
United States

He's being called the "reverse Robin Hood". A high-profile schools chief with a fearsome reputation for discipline stands accused of looting one of Chicago's poorest education authorities, even filching pupils' milk money, and threatening to break the legs of staff if they turned him in.

Thomas Ryan was described in court as behaving like a "cross between God, Hitler and Ditka" - a reference to hard-man Chicago Bears American football team manager Mike Ditka - as he ruled Sauk Village schools.

He was arrested on August 23 and charged with embezzling more than $100,000 (pound;55,000) from school coffers that he allegedly spent on his daughters' college fees, meals and ice hockey tickets. Officials are still probing the source of an astonishing $730,000 in cash found in a raid at his home.

Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich, who had appointed Ryan to an education taskforce, accused him of "monumental hypocrisy".

Ryan, 53, was known as "Mr Zero" for his zero-tolerance approach to discipline. He once suspended a child for bringing a water pistol to school and banned homeless students from classes.

Cook County State's Attorney Richard Devine accused Ryan of stealing funds for after-school tutoring and to buy students' free milk, and extorting kickbacks from staff claiming overtime. One member of staff was told he would have his "legs broken" if he reported Ryan, prosecutors alleged.

Ryan faces additional charges of intimidation, communication with a witness, harassment of a witness, obstruction of justice, bribery and official misconduct.

He is also accused of handing a $72,000 lighting contract to a friend, bypassing open bidding.

Also arrested in the case was Louise Morales, 73, president of the local school board, who faces charges of theft and misconduct.

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