The Larger Problem with the Freddie Dean Smith Story: How Do Convicted Felons Bounce Around New York State Schools?

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FredSmith.jpgThe City School District of New Rochelle has issued a statement on a report in Talk of the Sound that former Assistant Superintendent Freddie Dean Smith was hired despite an extensive criminal record.

"The District will not comment on former employees of the School District."

That answer is simply not going to cut it.

Let me acknowledge that it will require resources that I simply do not have to fully and thoroughly investigate Freddie Dean Smith and the various issues with how he was hired despite an extensive criminal history and passed along for jobs despite being "unexpectedly resigned" from the City School District of New Rochelle, the Pocantico Hills Central School District and the Troy City School District.

The best I can do at this point is to FOIL where I can, raise questions that need to be answered, answer the ones I can and hope that other media outlets around the area can pick up the threads so that a complete picture emerges. If you are reading this and have further information about Smith, especially records, please send them to robertcox@talkofthesound.com.

Media outlets that have reported on Smith in the past - the Albany Times Union and the Journal News have, so far, not picked up our story about Smith's extensive criminal history.

I am calling on them now to get involved (via email and this article).

This seriously screwed up guy -- a sociopath -- is still working as a schools administrator in Yonkers and the Bronx. That he has not been permanently barred from working with children is more a commentary on the New York schools system than Smith.

I am expanding my "call to arms" to every media outlet in the New York Metropolitan area -- News12, CBS2 News, News4 New York, Eyewitness News, Fox5, WPIX, New York Times, New York Daily News, Newsday, New York Post and the national media. We could also use help from media outlets in South Carolina, Virginia and Maryland where Smith previously worked and resided.

If your work for a media outlet and want information on how I was able to document Smith's criminal past please contact me at robertcox@talkofthesound.com.

The most fundamental question is how a man like Smith -- hired for senior level administrative positions in New York State public schools -- was able to get an administrative license, pass required background checks and get recommendations for new jobs even as his lies began to unravel in a very public way.

It was not until 2010 -- seven years after Smith first came to New York -- that anyone in New York appears to have done a meaningful background check that included the states where he lived and worked before coming to New York.

They must be doing something right in New Jersey because, it appears from records, Smith applied for just one position, lied on his application, was found out and told in a letter that he was "permanently disqualified" from any position at any school or with any company that did business with any school in the State of New Jersey.

New York City schools also caught Smith in his lies and similarly banned him from working in their schools.

While this news outlet is focused on New Rochelle, this story is really an indictment of the entire education system in New York. A "pass the trash" culture that allows a school district like New Rochelle to hire felons like Fred Smith and child sexual predators like Jose Martinez without a comprehensive background check prior to their going on the payroll.

Both Smith and Martinez were promoted within the New York State education system after problems first began to surface. They are hardly alone.

In New Rochelle, Talk of the Sound has reported that the District has hired at least four convicted drug dealers, one of whom is still employed by the District. One employee violently assaulted three people and yet has remained on the payroll despite his conviction on three assault charges; this man is currently serving three years probation. The head of transportation drove drunk, crashed her SUV into three parked cars before flipping her own and still works in that position today.

Many other employees have been arrested but ultimately separated from employment by the District but often in cases where further investigation would have exposed further corruption or illegalities.

Still others committed crimes which were never reported to law enforcement - some of which have been reported by Talk of the Sound - including a woman who obtained a nude image of a 14-year old female student and emailed the image to her son and her daughter-in-law, all district employees.

The Jose Martinez case, working its way through the civil courts, may some day confirm what we have reported for years -- that over a half-dozen district employees and one board member, all mandated reporters, failed to contact police or Child Protective Services with complaints and concerns about Martinez while he was employed at Isaac E. Young Middle School.

Other board members with knowledge of the matter in the days prior to his arrest also failed to report Martinez to authorities at a time when New Rochelle Police already had a complaint from the mother which was not pursued due to lack of corroboration. Calls from the school board members would have been that corroboration had they contacted CPS or NRPD. They did not.

These are all crimes.

The penalty for Failure to Report ("willfully fails to report as required") under New York State Social Services Law §420 is a Class A misdemeanor. Any mandatory reporter who knowingly and willfully fails to report as required shall be civilly liable for the damages proximately caused by such failure.

In New York, however, the starting point for Smith was in another District.

The door through which Smith entered the New York State education system is in White Plains, NY.

White Plains school officials need to explain how Smith was hired despite records showing that Smith was on probation for a felony conviction of endangering a police officer and obstruction of justice and had dozens of prior incidents involving police including arrests that resulted in a dozen criminal convictions in the 14 preceding years.

Timothy P. Connors, the Superintendent when Smith was hired by White Plains in 2002, should not be hard to find. Connors was recently re-hired as Superintendent of Schools on an Interim basis by White Plains after his predecessor accepted a position as Superintendent in Tarrytown, NY.

Smith was hired by New Rochelle in 2005, the waning days of the Linda Kelly administration.

Former Schools Superintendent Linda Kelly is still active in the community and has served for many years on the New Rochelle Fund for Excellence. She should not be hard to find either.

In 2007, Fred Smith went to the home of New Rochelle resident Arthur Praete late at night, and according to a complaint reviewed by Talk of the Sound, attempted to force his way into the home and made threats against the man and his wife. The complaint was acknowledged in a letter from Organisciak to the resident.

Despite this, Organisciak and the New Rochelle Board of Education recommended Smith for his next position. Two of the board members are still on the board - Board President David Lacher and Deidre Polow. One former board member, Quay Watkins, now runs the New Rochelle Boys & Girls Club. These folks are all easy to find as well.

Smith was hired as Superintendent of Schools for the Pocantico Hills Central School District in 2008 and "unexpectedly resigned" in 2009 "after it was discovered that he had copied newsletters from a Massachusetts elementary school principal."

The Board of Education in Pocantico Hills in 2009 included John Conrad who is currently President of the Board and should therefore be easy to find.

Organisciak and the New Rochelle Board of Education continued to recommend Smith even after he was fired, even after plagiarism charges were reported in the Journal News and even after the University of Virginia revoked Smith's doctorate.

In 2010, Smith was hired by the Troy City School District as director of Pupil Personnel Services.

Troy Superintendent Fadhilika Atiba-Weza told the Albany Times-Union that he was aware that Smith had been fired from his previous position amidst charges of plagiarism but hired him anyway because he “interviewed well” and “seemed like a good fit.” Smith claimed to have a letter from the University of Virginia exonerating him of plagiarism charges but Atiba-Weza admitted he never saw the letter or asked Smith to produce the letter.

Sources tell Talk of the Sound that Dr. Fadhilika Atiba-Weza and Richard Organisciak were known to each other from their time as Superintendents in Long Island. Organisciak was the Superintendent in Deer Park, NY. Atiba-Weza was the Superintedent in the Central Islip Public Schools and Roosevelt public schools.

Organisciak was "not renewed" by the New Rochelle Board of Education in 2013. Organisciak is still currently under contract with the District and being paid for "sick days" until his contract ends on June 30, 2014.

Atiba-Weza was "unexpectedly resigned" by the Troy School District in 2011 but did manage to secure for himself a quarter-million dollar payout and health insurance for life.

There are plenty of questions for Smith's current employers at Leake & Watts.

Fred Smith was hired in 2012 at Leake & Watts in Yonkers, as reported by the Journal News.

Even a former Pocantico Hills schools superintendent whose doctorate was revoked amid charges of plagiarism deserves a second chance.

So say officials from Leake & Watts residential treatment center, who confirmed Wednesday that they have hired Freddie D. Smith as assistant principal for the Biondi School, which serves troubled middle and high school students.

“We believe in giving people second chances,” said Meredith Barber, director of institutional advancement.

He was hired June 5 after a 16-member committee of faculty members fully vetted the disgraced school official.

He had struggled to find work after the plagiarism scandal broke in 2009.

Does "fully vetted" mean the 16-member committee of faculty members knew of Smith's criminal convictions?

Is Smith serving in an administrative capacity for any Federal or State grants which require an administrative license or for which he is not eligible?

The Bronx Annex of the Carol & Frank Biondi Education Center/Leake & Watts Services is a school located within the Special Education Quality Assurance (SEQA) New York City Region.

Do the New York City Schools -- which already barred Smith from employment -- know of any administrative role that Smith has at the Bronx Annex of the Biondi School?

Does the New York State Education Department know of Smith's role at the Bronx Annex of the Biondi School or the Biondi School in Yonkers?

I have made inquiries to the New York State Department of Education about these questions and the history of Smith's licenses in New York.

I have made inquiries to the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles about a vehicle owned by Smith -- a 2001 VOLVO Series: XC Model: V70 VIN: YV1SZ58D211043344 with Tag # NY CZK9123 Valid from: (12/21/2004 to 12/20/2012)

Sources tell me that while employed as Assistant Superintendent in New Rochelle, Smith drove a car provided by the City School District of New Rochelle at a time when he did not have a driver’s license.

I have asked DMV if Smith currently has a New York State Driver’s License, when he obtained it, if it was ever suspended or revoked, etc. If so, the reasons.

I also asked whether a person can own/register a vehicle in New York State if they do not have a valid driver's license.

I have made a Public Records request for Fred Smith and the 2001 VOLVO with the New Rochelle Police Department.

Unless we are to believe that Smith was hired by four New York school districts despite knowledge of his extensive criminal records, Smith can be presumed to have lied on all of his job applications (as was the case in New Jersey and New York City which caught him and banned him).

Under FOIL, I am currently seeking copies of Smith's job applications, contracts and separation agreements in White Plains, New Rochelle and Pocantico Hills where he would have been asked questions about his criminal history. He may have been asked those questions in Troy and at Leake & Watts but I doubt those applications are covered under the New York State Freedom of Information Law. I will post the results to my three FOIL requests when I have them.

Below is a spreadsheet I used in tracking arrests, citations, and convictions for Smith. I am still looking for more but this is a pretty extensive list and was readily available once I sought the information.

FredSmith Citations Arrests Convictions455

If you can think of any additional questions or topics of inquiry please contact me at the emails provided above or add a comment.

I will be addressing this topic and certain questions to the school board at their two meetings next week.

UPDATE 2/18: New Rochelle Police Department reply to Freddie Dean Smith FOIL request: "A search by name and DOB failed to turn up any arrests or citations".

UPDATE 2/19: White Plains School District reply to Freddie Dean Smith FOIL request: "We will research the request and get back to you."

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