Charles Ewald, a former top official with Montgomery County Public Schools’ transportation department, pleaded guilty to embezzlement this week.
The proffer letter for the former assistant director alleges that he inappropriately charged more than $460,000 to his MCPS-issued purchase card and received more than $350,000 in fraudulent reimbursements from the bus-supply contractor American Truck & Bus Inc.
In one instance, he appeared to have paid off a loan for a $64,000 Lincoln Navigator with the “off-the-books” reimbursements, according to the proffer letter.
Ewald appeared Thursday afternoon in Montgomery County Circuit Court to plead guilty to charges of a felony theft scheme over $100,000 and misconduct in office.
Ewald had been placed on administrative leave in November 2021 and ultimately fired from his position in February 2022 as the result of an investigation by the Office of the Inspector General conducted in collaboration with police. The OIG’s report connected Ewald with multiple alleged financial improprieties involving the use of MCPS purchase cards distributed to DOT employees.
The school district ultimately recovered an excess of $800,000 because of the investigation. According to Ewald’s signed plea proffer, a detailed audit of his transactions found that he charged over $463,256 to his purchase card between July 1, 2016 and Jan. 5, 2022.
“The dollar value of his purchases was significantly higher than any other Transportation Department employee,” the proffer reads. “His purchases included many high-cost items from furniture supply companies, a large number of transactions with Home Depot, and a significant number of Amazon orders.”
Additionally, the audit found that around 80% of Ewald’s transactions exceeded the $500 limit on his P-card purchases, the proffer states. The proffer includes screenshots of high-figure reimbursement requests sent to the bus supplier company from Ewald for “off-the-books” funds without any related invoices or documentation to justify the amounts.
According to Ewald’s proffer, he also stole money by reimbursing himself through the MCPS bus supplier company, American Truck & Bus (ATB). The proffer shows Ewald made multiple requests for ATB to disburse money to himself and others from an “off-the-books” account. The proffer letter makes no criminal accusations against ATB.
In this manner, ATB issued a total of $352,567 to be paid directly into Ewald’s personal USAA bank account, records show. The proffer asserts Ewald used nearly $58,000 of those funds to pay off a loan he took out in order to purchase a 2018 Lincoln Navigator.
Ewald’s sentencing hearing is set for Sept. 6 at 8:30 a.m., according to the county State’s Attorney’s Office. The prosecution may present additional facts relevant to Ewald’s case at the time of sentencing, the plea proffer states.
For the theft scheme, Ewald faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, a $25,000 fine and restoration of the stolen property to MCPS—a monetary amount the parties are expected to agree upon prior to the sentence hearing. If the parties are unable to reach an agreement by that date, a restitution hearing will be set to determine the amount, according to the proffer. There is no minimum or maximum penalty in Maryland associated with being found guilty of misconduct in office.
Ewald’s attorney—Kush Arora of Prize Benowitz—could not immediately be reached for comment on the case.