School board member Emanuel Capers is accused of taking an “unauthorized” free trip to Arizona from Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak’s company for an education conference, according to a district investigation report completed last week.
Capers, who is accused of having at minimum “committed an ethics violation” in the report for taking the trip worth an estimated $2,455 from a potential vendor, called the investigation “flawed” for excluding certain pieces of information. He said the report excludes his post-travel report filed with the superintendent’s office and a key text message that proves he was allegedly targeted.
“It’s a police framing,” said Capers of the investigation report. “It’s a frame up to tarnish my reputation.” He alleges the director of school security James Smith, a former police captain, is targeting him for raising questions about school security and transportation.
Smith dismissed Capers’ assertion that he was targeted.
“Why did he refuse to cooperate? Is he saying the information provided is false?” remarked Smith.
“He’s a district security guard. He’s not a real investigator,” remarked Capers when asked why he did not cooperate with Smith’s investigation. Smith has conducted numerous investigations while employed by the Paterson Police Department.
Smith interviewed six district officials and a representative of the company, Woz U, to complete his 77-page investigation report.
The investigation findings are in the first nine pages while the rest are exhibits.
Woz U offered an all-expense paid trip for the Effective Schools Conference that ran from Feb. 20-23, 2018 at the Scottsdale Plaza Resort in Paradise Valley to Capers and district employees — Jose Correa, Eric Crespo, and William Graulich.
Superintendent Eileen Shafer pulled her staff back and instructed them not to go on a trip on a potential vendor’s dime. She provided a word of caution to Capers on dealing with vendors.
“I’m still going,” Capers told Correa on Feb. 5 when the two men crossed paths on the fourth floor of the district headquarters. Correa, director of instructional technology and media specialists, told him he could not attend at the instruction of the superintendent, according to the report.
Correa told Capers the district is looking to purchase Woz U’s coding platform.
“I’ll recuse myself from voting,” Capers told him, according to the report. He had to recuse himself anyway for a past sponsorship the firm provided to his organization.
Capers needed a resolution approved through the board to attend the conference, according to the report. “No such resolution was ever presented to the Board of Education. This is especially troublesome when a vendor is paying for the entire conference,” wrote Smith.
Capers said a resolution has to be approved only when the school district is paying for the trip. He was provided transportation to Newark airport for the “unauthorized” trip to catch his flight by the district.
Smith’s department provided transportation to Capers.
“At the beginning, I thought it was authorized,” said Smith, when asked why the district provided transportation to airport for an unauthorized trip. Usually, his department conducts a follow-up the next day to ensure the trip is authorized, he said.
“There’s no reason for me to doubt [board members]. Now I know there is,” said Smith. After he dropped the school board member off at the airport, the security guard mistakenly sent a text message that was intended for Smith to Capers.
“All is set,” read a part of that text message. It included a picture of Capers walking into the terminal with a pair of luggage.
Capers finds malicious motive in the picture and the text. He cites this to assert Smith set him up.
Smith called the assertion “ridiculous.” His investigation did not include the text message.
“That security guard takes a picture of everything he does. If he drops a letter off at somebody’s house, he takes a picture of the house. That’s just his way,” said Smith. “I could show you a million pictures. He just wants to prove that he was at the location.”
Smith said once he realized it was an unauthorized trip Capers was contacted and told the district would not provide transportation to pick him up from airport.
Capers cut his trip short, paid for a flight change, and returned on Feb. 23, two days in advance. Smith contacted Kathy Elerick, general manager at Woz U, as part of his investigation, for receipts and details of the “scholarship” that covered registration, hotel, airfare, and meals.
Capers paid $272 for the flight changes, according to Elerick’s email to Smith.
“Wow, he actually paid,” remarked Smith in an email reply to Elerick. His response “developed concerns” and raised a “red flag” for her, she told Smith.
“It seemed to come from a personal angle rather than a professional one, but I understand email can be misleading,” Elerick wrote back to Smith.
Elerick did not return a call for comment for this report.
Smith responded back that it was not personal. He wrote he was asked to investigate. Smith would not say who asked him to conduct the investigation. His report questioned the veracity of Elerick’s information.
The report says Elerick was feeding information sent by Smith to Capers. She also claimed the so called scholarship was offered to every board member. However, Smith asserts it was only offered to Capers and the employees invited to attend. A form for the conference also made it clear school officials should consult an ethics official to ensure no state, local laws, or school board rules barred acceptance of the scholarship.
Capers denied doing anything wrong.
The investigation report has been sent to the New Jersey School Ethics Commission, according to officials.
School board president Oshin Castillo declined to comment on the investigation report.
When asked whether the superintendent or the board president initiated the investigation, Castillo said: “It was a mutual decision when it was brought to our attention.”
Smith in his report states Capers contacted one of his subordinates on a Sunday (Feb. 25, 2018) evening to discuss having an in-house fleet of buses. Capers ended the call by stating he was going to make sure the district runs an in-house busing program. “I believe he is clearly trying to intimidate me and send me a message to halt my investigation,” wrote Smith referring to the call.
Capers showed emails in which he is seeking information from the district on transportation that pre-dates the start of Smith’s investigation.
At the end of his report, Smith urges interim Passaic County executive superintendent of schools Melissa Pearce to ensure that he is not subjected to “harassment and intimidation” from Capers and Jonathan Hodges.
“I’ve been inundated with questions about a million things ever since this investigation started,” said Smith on Tuesday.
Hodges attended a meeting dealing with the coding related to the company on Jan. 31. He declined to comment on the report, but said he favors bringing coding to the district.
Capers said his purpose for taking the trip was to bring coding and drone programs to the district. He said he did not accept anything else from the firm besides the scholarship.