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Lawyer’s Tip Led to Theft Charges Against Woman for Lying to Get Son into Better School

Posted Apr 28, 2011 7:59 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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A lawyer's tip has led to felony charges against a Connecticut homeless woman accused of lying to get her child into a better school.

Police investigated Tanya McDowell after a lawyer for the Norwalk Housing Authority contacted authorities, the New York Times reports. The Housing Authority alleged that McDowell had used her baby sitter’s address so her son could attend a suburban kindergarten in Norwalk.

McDowell is charged with felony larceny and conspiracy, and she could be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison if convicted. She is represented by a lawyer with the Connecticut NAACP Legal Redress Committee, NBC Connecticut reports. McDowell pleaded not guilty on Wednesday, the Daily Norwalk reports.

McDowell says she currently lives in a van, while her 5-year-old son lives with relatives in Bridgeport, the Times says.

The Housing Authority lawyer, Donna Lattarulo, told the Stamford Advocate that McDowell testified during an eviction hearing for the baby sitter that she did not live in the sitter’s apartment, but the judge thought otherwise. Staying at the sitter’s apartment violated housing authority lease rules, Lattarulo said.

The lawyer decided to make the state’s attorney aware of what appeared to be a fraud by McDowell. "Someone was lying," Lattarulo told the Stamford Advocate. "I thought I should pass it on to the authorities."

There is some dispute as to whether McDowell ever told school officials that she was homeless, which would have allowed her son to stay in the Norwalk school, the Times says.

Despite the factual questions, the case highlights issues of equal access to education, the newspaper says. Connecticut has the largest achievement gap between black and white students of any state in the country.

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