State: Former Special Ed Director Stole Millions

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The state inspector general says a former director of an education collaborative lavishly spent millions of public dollars that were intended to help educate special needs students in Massachusetts.

State Inspector General Gregory Sullivan wrote a letter Tuesday to John Barranco, the former director of the Merrimack Special Education Collaborative. The letter alleges that Barranco stole what could be more than $10 million, racked up thousands of dollars in credit card bills and gave high-paying jobs to associates, including a "no-show" job to a State House lobbyist who has now been convicted of corruption.

After investigating the collaborative for a year, Sullivan told WBUR Wednesday that he believes it's "one of the most outrageous scandals" in his office's history.

Sullivan found that the source of abuse was the Merrimack Education Center, an associated nonprofit which pooled money from 10 communities for the collaborative. He is calling on the collaborative to repay all money improperly spent.

"Our report is a request to the state Retirement Board and to the member communities that they should take action," Sullivan said. "They have the authority to take action to address this."

When asked how such alleged abuses could have occurred, Sullivan called education collaboratives "sort of outposts of government" that are not properly monitored or regulated, with no one community that has direct oversight. He did say, however, that collaboratives are all over the state and that most "do a great job."

Sullivan's office began reviewing Barranco and the Merrimack Special Education Collaborative after receiving complaints from citizens and Education Department officials.

Reacting to the report later Wednesday, Julia Landau, with Massachusetts Advocates for Children, said, "If it's true that there's gross mishandling of funds from the most vulnerable children in commonwealth when legislators have been doing everything they can to restore funding for special education, it's just unconscionable and demands action."

This program aired on June 22, 2011.

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Deborah Becker Host/Reporter
Deborah Becker is a senior correspondent and host at WBUR. Her reporting focuses on mental health, criminal justice and education.



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