8:45 a.m. this morning brings Monique Acevedo before Judge Mark Jones, to enter a plea of guilty or nolo contendre to charges of swiping around $413,000 from our school system. Nolo contendre basically means the charges against the defendant are not denied but the defendant does not formally admit them either. Both pleas are guilty pleas, but nolo simply sounds a little nicer. Ether plea saves Monique a trial by a jury of her peers, and puts the entire load for determining her fate on Judge Jones.
Monique’s husband, Randy, our former Superintendent of Schools, was already convicted for helping cover up Monique’s theft. His case is on appeal.
After his conviction, before he changed lawyers, Randy’s local lawyer, a former assistant prosecuting State Attorney, was arguing in the local press that Randy was charged and convicted of helping Monique cover up crimes for which she had not yet been convicted, so how could Randy be convicted, if Monique was not yet convicted?
That defense was about the same as two apprehended bank robbers, one driving the get-away car, the other going into the bank to stick it up. The get-away driver is tried first and defends on the ground that the stick-up defendant has not yet been convicted, so the get-away driver cannot be found guilty.
Horseshit dreamed up by defense lawyers. If, beyond a reasonable doubt, the jury believes from the evidence that a bank robbery was committed by the stick-up defendant, and if the jury, beyond a reasonable doubt, believes the other defendant/accomplice was waiting outside the bank in the get-away car, then the jury can convict the accomplice even though the stick-up defendant has not yet been tried and convicted.
Now before Judge Jones is the stick-up defendant. Now comes the moment of truth. Will Judge Jones go easy on Monique, perhaps even give her house arrest for a while, followed by probation and a long-term restitution payment plan? Probation is what Randy received, even through he showed no remorse at his sentencing hearing and admitted not that he had done anything wrong; and then he appealed his conviction. Or will Judge Jones put Monique in prison? If so, for how long? And under what terms of eventual release? That’s what we all are waiting to learn today.
Monique will be allowed to put on character witnesses, if she wishes, and use their testimony, and the fact that Monique and Randy have minor children, and the fact that Monique might have been mentally deranged and on mind-altering drugs when she raped the school system, to try to persuade Judge Jones to go light on her. Assistant State Attorney Mark Wilson will be able to cross-examine those witnesses, which might turn out pretty embarrassing for them in a community still in shock and outrage over what Monique and Randy did.
Shock and outraged evidenced by the fact that just last week this community at the polls, by about 2/3 of the votes cast, revoked the historical election of the Superintendent of Schools method and replaced it with a Superintendent who will be hired, supervised and fired by the School Board. The Acevedos were the reason for this change in selection of School Superintendent. Several times previously, attempts to make this change were soundly defeated at the polls.
After Monique’s rape and pillage was discovered, Randy refused to take a voluntary paid administrative leave. A majority of the School Board, Steven Pibramsky and John Dick dissenting, refused to force Randy to take paid administrative leave. The School Board and school system were in pandemonium. They had what appeared to be a criminal for a School Superintendent. An elected official, Randy could not be fired by the Board. Only the Governor could remove Randy. The Governor waited until Randy was arrested and booked, then the Governor put Randy on leave without pay. Then, after some searching around, the Governor appointed an interim Superintendent, who is still on the job.
That about one-third of the voters wanted to keep an elected School Superintendent in the face of all of that astounds me. That this county ever even had an elected School Superintendent to begin with astounds me. It was a popularity contest. The Superintendent didn’t even need to have experience in a school system. In fact, Randy had never taught school a day in his life. In fact, Randy did not have a teaching certificate. In fact, Randy knew no more about teaching school than I know, but he became our Superintendent of Schools because people who liked him voted him into office.
Not satisfied with his own lack of qualifications, Randy sought to enhance his wife’s lack of qualifications. He got an outside firm to jimmy the requirements for a position Monique lacked the qualifications to assume. Then, Randy promoted Monique to that position. He did not tell the School Board he had done this until some time later. This new position put Monique in charge of areas where she now could steal from the school system. She used the new position well. And when she got caught, she got really uppity about it, as did Randy.
Monique’s Public Defender lawyer, and maybe character witnesses, will try to persuade Judge Jones to treat Monique like a common thief. Like she only embezzled $413,000 from a corporation for which she worked. Like she had worked for Key West developer-business mogul Ed Swift, and she had embezzled $413,000 from Ed’s company. Corporate white collar theft.
It will be argued by defense counsel that all that’s really necessary here is to put Monique on house arrest for a while; then on probation, and for her to pay all of the money back over time like it’s a mortgage. It will be argued that this is fair and appropriate, because that’s how other white collar embezzlers have been treated by the courts.
Monique did not steal from a developer mogul for whom she worked. Monique stole from an entire school system and its community. She was a high official in the school system. She was a role model for the children. She was entrusted with our children’s welfare. She was entrusted with the taxpayers’ money. What Monique did, with Randy’s assistance, tore the fabric of the soul of this community to shreds. The community lost all faith in the school system, which was exacerbated by three of the School Board members vacillating on what to do about Monique after her crime became known. The Board members who did not vaccilate were Steven Pibramsky and John Dick.
After it was clear Monique was a thief, and a big time one at that, School Board Chairman Andy Griffith eventually came out in favor of giving Monique house arrest and then probation, along with restitution. Idiotic.
School Board members Pibramsky and Dick led the charge from the get-go, to deal with the Acevedos, while the other three Board members played safe. Pibramsky and his family received serious threats, which put them in fear for their and their small children’s safety. But for Pibramsky and Dick, the Acevedos might have gotten away with it.
State Attorney Dennis Ward has come under terrific pressure to cut Monique slack, treat her like a mere employee thief of corporate money. Make no mistake, the very people who did not want State Attorney Dennis Ward to be elected are trying to get Monique cut slack, because her husband, Randy, is a conch. As in, he was born in the Keys. He is a Key Wester. Yep, a bubba. Bubbas are supposed to get different (translate better) treatment because they are bubbas.
Make no mistake, if Dennis Ward had not been elected, Randy Acevedo probably would not have been charged by the previous State Attorney. Make no mistake, Dennis Ward is not going to do what the bubbas want him to do. Dennis is not going to make it easy on Monique or Judge Jones. Dennis and his troops did the job they were supposed to do, the job Dennis was elected to do. Now it’s time for Judge Jones to do his job.
There is one other thing that needs to be addressed today. School system administrative employee Kathy Reizel blew the whistle on Monique and Randy. Kathy didn’t blow it quickly, but she darn well did blow it. She blew it in an environment of retribution for going against the power structure. She blew it because she could not live any longer with what she knew was going on.
For not blowing the whistle when she first got wind of what Monique was doing, and of Randy covering for it, Kathy Reizel was fired by the new Superintendent of Schools, whom the Governor appointed. What chance now that another school system employee, or any county employee, will get fed up and finally blow the whistle? What was the new Superintendent thinking? People have been maimed and even killed in the Keys for doing less than what Kathy Reizel did. People above Kathy in the school system were not axed, even though they were part of the attitude that allowed this cataclysm to occur.
Kathy Reizel was the State Attorney’s chief prosecuting witness against Randy at his trial. But for Kathy Reitzel, Randy would not have been convicted. But for Cathy Reizel, Monique would not be going before Judge Jones today. If Judge Jones doesn’t put Monique in prison today, what kind of message will that send to ever school student and adult in the Keys? How many Monique copycats will that spawn?
Here’s what Steven Pibramsky wrote to Dennis Ward, in separate letter from what the School Board sent to Dennis:
“It is important for our community that justice is served and that any sentence be significant enough to serve as an example that the trust in our educational system serves as the bedrock of our community and that this trust should not be blatantly violated with impunity.”
Sloan Bashinsky, citizen