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Former Gadsden assistant principal ordered to repay $200,000

Joe Ellis Lewis, Jr., arrested January 2015 for allegedly stealing more than $200,000 from the Gadsden County School District, signed a pre-trial intervention agreement last week with the State Attorney’s Office to avoid prosecution.

The agreement, filed May 24 in Gadsden County’s Second Judicial Circuit Court, requires Lewis to repay the funds he allegedly took from the local school district between February 2007 and January 2012, when he was the district’s transportation director.

Lewis must pay the Gadsden County School Board “no less than $185,000” and “no more than $200,785,” the agreement states.

A $125,600 lump sum will be taken from Lewis’ state-sponsored retirement fund, and the remainder of the restitution will come from the court-ordered sale of three properties owned by Lewis – 428 N. Madison St., 480 Holly Circle and 177 Holly Circle, all in Quincy. The final restitution total will depend on profits from the property sale.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s Office of Executive Investigations arrested Lewis in January 2015 on charges of grand theft ($100,000 or more stolen).

Lewis had retired from the School District in June 2014 as an assistant principal, after previously serving as transportation director.

Florida Department of Law Enforcement inspectors began investigating Lewis in April 2014 after receiving a referral from the Florida Department of Education’s Office of the Inspector General. The investigation revealed that Lewis deposited reimbursement money into his own bank accounts that should have been paid to the district for the use of county school buses for after-school programs.

Nonprofits and organizations used county school buses and were supposed to have reimbursed the school district. Instead, Lewis directed them to make the checks payable to him.

Lewis then deposited the checks into is own personal bank accounts. The State Attorney’s Office released a statement that it offered Lewis the deferred prosecution agreement in the best interests of the state after a review of the offenses and Lewis’ background.

As part of the deal, Lewis is not required to check in with a supervising officer, nor is he subject to any supervision fees.

Gadsden County School Board Attorney Deborah Minnis said last week the board was notified by the state attorney’s office about the agreement as a courtesy, but the local school board had no role in negotiating any of the agreement’s stipulations.

Lewis was represented by Tallahassee criminal defense attorney Nathan Prince.

The conditions of Lewis’ pre-trial intervention agreement include:

  • Lewis must refrain from violating any law (Federal, State and local).
  • Lewis needs to pay restitution to the Gadsden County School Board. The total amount of restitution shall be no less than $185,000 and no more than $200,785.
  • Lewis has to pay a lump sum of $125,600 to the school board once the funds are released by the Florida Retirement System to a trust set up by Lewis’ lawyer.
  • Lewis has to sell three properties in Quincy located at 428 Madison Street North, 480 Holly Circle and 177 Holly Circle to pay back the School Board, Lewis agreed to undertake the sale of these properties immediately upon execution of the agreement.
  • Prior to the sale of these properties, Lewis agreed to send the school board, via his attorney, any and all rent payments from tenants residing at these properties.
  • Lewis also agreed not to seek or accept employment with the Gadsden County Schools in any capacity.

By Randall Lieberman