Principal siphoned $42,000 in school funds to pay housekeeper, investigators say

A former Miami Jackson Adult Education Center principal was arrested Wednesday after authorities say he used close to $42,000 in school district funds to pay his housekeeper.

Joey Bautista, 48, has been charged with three felonies: an organized scheme to defraud and three counts each of official misconduct and grand theft.

According to investigators, Bautista got his housekeeper a job at a Miami Jackson Adult Education Center satellite location in January 2013 as a “community-school activity leader”. The housekeeper, identified as Adeline Joseph, told investigators that she worked as a custodian at the satellite location for several months. Then, in March 2013, Bautista transferred her to the adult education center’s main location at Miami Jackson Senior High School.

But instead of planning activities, Joseph went back to cleaning Bautista’s home, cooking for him and caring for his two pre-teen kids, according to investigators.

Between March 2013 and September 2015, Bautista signed bi-weekly school payroll records containing Joseph’s work hours, investigators say. As a result, $41,798.22 in school district funds was deposited directly into Joseph’s account.

During that time, Bautista appears to have issued only one payment from his personal bank account to Joseph — a $200 check in 2015 with the word “Housekeeping” written in the memo section, according to investigators.

Bautista told investigators he had paid Joseph with cash and checks, but failed to produce copies of the checks, according to an affidavit in support of the arrest warrant. Bautista could not be reached Wednesday and it was unclear if he had an attorney.

In the fall of 2015, Bautista sent Joseph to Miami Edison Middle School, where Miami Jackson Adult Education Center has a satellite location, to work as a custodian. A confidential source told investigators that Joseph had been sent to the school when the principal of another adult education center was arrested for hiring a no-show employee in exchange for illegal kickbacks.

“What’s sad is that here was a successful man who was cheating and using dollars that were meant to go to young people who are looking to better themselves through education,” said Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle, referring to Bautista. “He had a great job, people believed in him and he betrayed that trust.”

Fernandez Rundle said investigators heard about Bautista’s alleged misconduct from a “reliable source in another case.” In collaboration with the Miami-Dade County Public Schools Office of the Inspector General and Schools Police, investigators from the State Attorney’s Public Corruption Task Force went through bank and payroll records and spoke with school employees. They discovered that custodians and administrators at the adult education center did not know Joseph and hadn’t seen her working at Miami Jackson or any of the center’s satellite locations during the period in question.

In a statement, Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said the school district placed Bautista on special assignment while he was under investigation and started the process of firing him immediately after his arrest.

“The school district holds every employee to the highest standards of professionalism and integrity,” Carvalho said. “We will not tolerate the type of unscrupulous behavior by employees that betrays the trust of our community and belies the core values of the school district.”

Bautista started working for the school district in 1998 and had been the principal of the Miami Jackson Adult Education Center since July 2011.

Miami Herald staff writer David Ovalle contributed to this report.