High School Gets Stung by Deadbeat-High-Dollar-Donor Syndrome

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June 4, 2016; New York Post

After a donor calling himself Juan Diaz Romero volunteered a $1.5 million donation to Enterprise High School in Brooklyn, the school planned for a number of big-ticket purchases, including a big class trip to D.C. But it turns out that the long history of “Dr. Diaz” is short on donations but long on writing bad checks.

Diaz Romero had a persona constructed on his Facebook page that claimed he was a consultant for Alfa Group Consortium, a Russian investment firm. On LinkedIn, he billed himself as CEO of a different company. The gift proved fake, but not until after the Department of Education had advanced them funds based on the gift to be spent on technology upgrades and excursions to the Grand Canyon and to see Broadway plays.

Apparently, this was not Diaz Romero’s first rodeo. In 1998 he posed as a second-baseman for the New York Yankees, buying a $38,000 Ford Expedition with a bad check. At that time, he was only ordered to pay restitution. In 2003, he pretended to be a lawyer in Manhattan Housing Court and was charged with filing a false instrument; in 2004, he was arrested for conning two different people into an investment scheme that relieved them of $7,000 and was charged with forgery for writing a bad check to a federal credit union. In 2006, Romero tried to buy three cars with bad checks—at the same dealership.

Special Schools Investigator Richard Condon’s office said on Friday that he was investigating whether school and city Department of Education staffers violated rules in their dealings. “It is important to note that prior to the acceptance of grant or gift, officials at receiving schools and sites must assure that comprehensive research of the donor has been completed. It is paramount that the integrity of the individual donor or organization is uncompromised,” NYC DOE rules state. In our opinion, gift acceptance rules should also state that having cash in hand, or at least having a researched and documented basis for believing that the donor is a good credit risk, should be required before any organization—including a New York City public school—announces new initiatives or commits to program expenses based on a single gift.

Should the school have done more due diligence? The story reminds us of the faux $100-million-dollar gift to Portland State University last year. At that time, we called it bizarre and pointless, and that one had many of the same markers as this one, so we are seeing the signs of a pattern. Maybe we all need to revisit those gift acceptance policies to save a lot of time and embarrassment.—Ruth McCambridge