Teacher Admits Thefts; to Repay School Funds, Do Community Service

By CHRIS BURRELL

Faced with a widening police investigation, longtime regional high school teacher Peter J. Koines admitted yesterday in Edgartown District Court that he stole school-owned kitchen equipment and funneled $20,000 of school funds into his personal bank account and summer pie business.

As part of a plea bargain that puts an end to the criminal inquiry, Mr. Koines was ordered to resign his teaching position, return the stolen equipment and pay back $20,000 to the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School, where he has worked as a culinary arts teacher since 1989.

Mr. Koines, represented by Edgartown defense attorney Charles Morano, admitted sufficient facts to warrant a guilty finding on four separate counts of larceny over $250 and larceny over $250 by false pretenses.

Each count carried a maximum punishment of two and a half years in jail, but Mr. Koines will face no jail time; he will do hundreds of hours of community service. As part of the plea, his case was continued without a finding for 18 months.

His appearance in court yesterday was part of a scheduled arraignment on two new charges from Oak Bluffs police, relating to claims that he stole money from an annual breakfast catered by culinary students for the Martha's Vineyard Rod & Gun Club.

Police say they have now ended their investigation into the case.

"My investigation will be closed unless there is a significant event that warrants particular attention," said Oak Bluffs police officer George Fisher. "The door is open for the high school to amend the restitution if they find any new discrepancies or if we find another event along the lines of the rod and gun club."

Assistant district attorney Richard Piazza told the Gazette that the deal with Mr. Koines came out of collaborative efforts.

"I think we're done with it," said Mr. Piazza. "They wanted to clear it up. It was an arrangement that involved everybody - the superintendent [of Vineyard schools, Dr. Kriner Cash], my office in Barnstable and Morano. Everybody seems to be satisfied."

In his court appearance before Judge John Julian, Mr. Koines appeared alone and dressed casually, wearing an untucked short-sleeve shirt, black pants and sandals.

He was called to the stand shortly before 1:30 p.m. As Judge Julian held the papers with Mr. Koines' signed admission, the prosecutor read the facts of the case.

"Officer Fisher's investigation determined that over a period of time food products were charged to the school; a 3,000 pound refrigerator and a mixer were taken for his personal business. A further investigation found that cash and check deposits from student activity funds were put to his personal use," said Mr. Piazza.

The prosecutor said Mr. Koines stole $10,000 from a revolving fund at the school in order to buy supplies for his own business, a pie stand at the Farmer's Market in West Tisbury, and diverted another $10,000 from a student activity fund - money which was supposed to go back to the high school and offset the cost of student trips to Italy.

Mr. Koines, standing next to his lawyer, quietly admitted to the facts read by the prosecutor.

Judge Julian ordered Mr. Koines to pay back $10,000 within 30 days and the remainder of the money within 18 months. He also ordered Mr. Koines to perform 1,400 hours of community service for the schools. That time is supposed to equal $7,000 worth of service, Mr. Morano said.

It was unclear how Mr. Koines will satisfy that order; he was also ordered to stay off the high school campus unless he is at the school in his role as the parent of a student.

The prosecution dropped one charge of receiving stolen goods and another charge of larceny by false pretenses.

Police started investigating Mr. Koines back in June after regional high school principal Peg Regan called them about equipment missing from the culinary arts kitchen.

After three weeks of detective work, police obtained a search warrant of Mr. Koines' house and outbuilding in Oak Bluffs. There they found a refrigerator, a commercial mixer, two stainless steel tables and other kitchen supplies - later identified as belonging to the high school.

Mr. Koines was arrested July 11 and charged with two counts of larceny and one count of larceny by false pretenses.

Invoices for pie-baking supplies showed that Mr. Koines was using school money to order fruit fillings and pie shells for his own private pie operation.

Police estimated the value of the stolen equipment at $7,000 and the value of the pie fixings at $4,000.

Last week, Oak Bluffs police announced they were seeking new charges against Mr. Koines in the wake of a new audit of school finances, which raised questions about payments made by the rod and gun club to Mr. Koines for their annual catch and release breakfast.

Neither police nor the auditor could find any record of $19,000 paid to Mr. Koines coming back to regional high school accounts.

"The checks were being made to the instructor personally. And it appears they were not deposited back to the high school," Officer Fisher told the Gazette last week.

Auditor Chris Rogers of Burlington stated in a letter to Mr. Cash that in interviewing rod and gun club president Robert DeLisle he learned the checks were written directly to Mr. Koines.

"The original check for the fiscal year 2003 event was issued payable to Martha's Vineyard Culinary Arts/Peter Koines," stated the auditor in his letter. "Mr. Koines requested that the check be re-issued directly to him."

"Additionally, and based on a conversation with the principal, the culinary arts students' final exam was the catering of the 2003 MVRGC (rod and gun club) event," Mr. Rogers said in his audit.

Mrs. Regan sent a letter to Mr. Koines back in June, informing him that he was fired because of allegedly using the high school kitchen to run a private business, and diverting school funds for his business.

She also decided to demote vocational director Kevin Carr, whose job responsibilities included overseeing equipment and finances in the vocational school.

But Mr. Cash would not go along with the demotion of Mr. Carr, opting instead to retool the way the high school handles its finances

"There's a lot of money moving around this school, and we need to tighten paper documentation," he told school committee members at their meeting last night. "One of the main issues is we need to tag our inventory, have a strong tag-based control system."