Friday, December 19, 2008

Arizona officials arrest autism advocate on fraud charges

From The Daily Courier in Prescott, Ariz.:

PRESCOTT - Prescott police Dec. 17 arrested Prescott Valley resident Raymond G. Parenteau at his home (pictured).

Officers took Parenteau into custody after a yearlong investigation revealed he allegedly defrauded the Prescott Unified School District of almost $20,000.

According to a police department press release, Parenteau contracted with the school district for $55 an hour to homeschool his 12-year-old autistic son.

Parenteau allegedly hired a certified special education instructor to work with his son and paid her $25 an hour. He allegedly kept the additional $30 an hour for himself.

During a nine-month period starting in January 2007, Parenteau allegedly charged the school district $36,258. He paid the special education assistant only $16,262 of the money he received from PUSD. Parenteau also allegedly billed the school district for hours not used for teaching his son and created false invoices.

Officers booked Parenteau into the Yavapai County Jail on felony fraudulent schemes and forgery charges. He currently is out on bail.

"The charges are unfounded. I will end up vindicated," Parenteau told the Daily Courier Thursday afternoon. "This gets PUSD what it wanted. I am not allowed to help other students. As a condition of my release on bail, I have to stay away from PUSD."

Parenteau advocated for several parents of autistic children for the past 18 months. In fact, as recently as Dec. 8, he spoke at a PUSD Governing Board meeting on behalf of a parent. School officials asked the governing board to approve a due process hearing in response to a parent's request for an Individual Education Evaluation for an autistic child.

PUSD Superintendent Kevin Kapp said Parenteau had filed a complaint with the Arizona Department of Education alleging his son was not receiving adequate services. However, before a due process hearing on his complaint, the school district and Parenteau reached an agreement.

Kapp said everyone agreed that Parenteau's son "deserved additional services, what is known as 'compensatory' education, which is available to any special education student."

The superintendent said the school district agreed to pay for and provide services in Parenteau's home. Parenteau billed the district the time the assistant was in his home, Kapp said, and then Parenteau paid the aide.

Kapp said district officials investigated billing versus payments to Parenteau. He said the county attorney's office reviewed the information and recommended the school district report the results to the Prescott Police Department.

Kapp said the money Parenteau received was for "educational services."

"With limited resources available for the education of all students, including special education students, it is very concerning that a parent may have manipulated the system for personal gain," he added.

Parenteau said he is "free on bond thanks to the support of the community I am helping."