North Miami Senior High’s night-school principal was arrested Monday after authorities say he took $1,000 in cash to hire a no-show employee, then demanded illegal kickbacks from the man.
That man, prosecutors say, was actually an undercover Miami police detective who was secretly recording their conversations.
Arrested was Jean Coty Ridore, 38, who has been with the North Miami Adult Education Center since July 2005. The charges: unlawful compensation, grand theft and official misconduct.
The Miami-Dade school district runs the night school for over 4,500 students at multiple campuses in the northeast region of the county. Billed as the largest and most successful adult-education program in Miami-Dade, students are taught everything from literacy to vocational skills.
“These are the kinds of bribery cases by public officials that really outrage every single member of the community,” Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said. “This was money that was intended to improve education.”
Ridore — who was too old to enroll in high school when he arrived from Haiti in the late 1980s — touted himself as a graduate of the program before he went on to earn degrees from Miami Dade College, Florida International University and Barry University.
“Now I’m back,” Ridore told the Miami Herald in 2006 in a story about the program helping Haitian immigrants learn English.
At the North Miami Adult Education Center, he oversaw more than 400 staffers and pulled in a salary of more than $110,000. Public corruption investigators targeted Ridore after receiving anonymous complaints that the principal had long “operated the school in an inappropriate manner” by hiring as many as 20 “ghost employees” who were paid but never showed up for work.
The school district on Monday released a statement that said: “Let this serve as an example that any attempt to engage in illegal activity or to defraud the community will not only be investigated, but prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”
Investigators with the state attorney’s office and the Miami-Dade Inspector General’s Office suspect Ridore had other employees helping him input phony hours for the ghost employees, according to an arrest warrant released on Monday.
Prosecutors and investigators with the Miami-Dade County Inspector General’s Office soon discovered that two ex-employees got paid over $14,000 in total — despite them being out of the country during their supposed work periods.
So far, Ridore has not been charged with any earlier hires, but detectives are still trying to figure out the scope of his suspected schemes. Ridore could not be reached Monday and it was unclear if he had an attorney.
Prosecutors arrested him after a confidential informant introduced the undercover detective to Ridore, who instructed the man how to get officially vetted through the school district’s website application process.
The undercover detective posed as a handyman — who worked mostly accepting cash — and explained he needed the job to help establish a record of credible employment for tax purposes. Ridore agreed because he needed the man’s help rehabilitating a foreclosed home he had recently purchased.
Finally in July, the two met inside Ridore’s SUV and the undercover detective paid him $1,000. He told the undercover cop: “it’s your job ... you don’t have to do nothing, man,” the warrant said.
“If somebody come to you and say I asked you give money — that’s not true,” he instructed the undercover officer.
Prosecutors say Ridore was concerned about police — at one point, he frisked the officer and checked his phone to ensure he was not recording their conversation. He missed the recording devices used by the detective.
Weeks went by and the officer never went to work. Ridore also never “instructed” him to attend work, the warrant said.
Finally on Monday, the officer met up again with Ridore to pay him half of his salary. Once Ridore accepted the cash, he was arrested.
Miami Herald reporter Christina Veiga contributed to this report.