EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

March 12, 2013

Ex-teacher charged in kickback scheme

By Keith Eddings

---- — LAWRENCE — A former high school teacher is the third school-district employee charged in a bid-rigging and kickback scheme that funneled three contracts worth $14,000 to the teacher’s publishing company six years ago.

One contract paid the former teacher, Algird Sunskis, $4,950 for a folding machine that he allegedly never delivered.

Two other former employees already have paid fines and forfeitures totaling $13,000 for their roles in what the state Ethics Commission called “a sham bid process.”

In October 2011, graphics department clerk Charles Birchall agreed to pay $8,449 in fines and restitution after admitting he accepted a $2,200 bribe to order the folding machine from Sunskis’ company, Wellington House Publishing.

In June, former graphics designer John Laurenza paid $4,536 in fines and restitution after admitting he misrepresented Sunskis’ company as the low bidder on contracts for employee time sheets and other materials valued at more than $9,000.

Laurenza avoided criminal bribery charges in the scam by agreeing to testify in the corruption trial of former Lawrence School Superintendent Wilfredo Laboy, who was jailed for 60 days last year after he was convicted of fraud and embezzlement for using school resources — including its graphics department employees and printers — for personal gain.

Laurenza testified he paid Laboy $1,500 in return for a printing contract from an association of Latino educators that Laboy once headed.

The Ethics Commission is scheduled to hold a hearing on its allegations against Sunskis within 90 days. He faces fines of up to $6,000 if convicted, and also could be criminally charged.

Attempts to reach Sunskis for comment were unsuccessful yesterday.

In an email to the Ethics Commission two years ago, he acknowledged paying Birchall $2,200, but said it was a payment for 500 copies of a book about teaching he wrote that he said Birchall agreed to print on school presses.

In the email, Sunskis said former Acting School Superintendent Marylou Bergeron fired him in June 2009 for “conduct unbecoming a teacher,” ending his six-year teaching career. He was earning $67,813 a year.

An internet search suggests Sunskis’ publishing company has gone out of business.

Laurenza and Birchall also are no longer working in Lawrence schools, although school district spokesman Chris Markuns yesterday would not describe the circumstances of their departure.

Laurenza left June 30, 2010, after three years in the graphics department. He was earning $50 an hour.

Birchall left Aug. 8, 2011, after eight years in the department. He was earning $43,514 a year.