A California man is awaiting trial in federal court in Tacoma, after the US Attorney’s office charged him with stealing $28 million in computer equipment from a government program that is supposed to help the nation’s schools.
“It’s just a real shame,” said Aaron Rogers, IT Director for Bellarmine Prep of Tacoma. “He’s really stealing it from the schools and kids who could be using it.”
Bellarmine is one of the schools that participate in the federal government’s “Computers for Learning” program. It provides surplus government computers to qualifying educational institutions.
“When we have equipment that fits in here we bring it in to help stretch our dollars,” said Rogers of the laptops, server racks and printers that Bellarmine and other parochial schools that he works with have received.
The General Services Administration (GSA) program allows schools to surf a website for available computer equipment and then place a hold on the equipment they want. It’s sent to the neediest school, with the school paying the costs of shipping.
But the feds say Steven Bolden, of Palmdale California, hatched a scheme around 2007 to take those computers right out of the hands of school children. They say he created 14 fictitious educational charities over the years that appeared to qualify for the GSA program.
“So far we’ve determined that about $28 million of computer equipment has gone to the various charities that he’s claimed to be fronting or in charge of,” said Assistant United States Attorney David Reese Jennings.
The US Attorney’s Office in Seattle says Bolden combed through the GSA website snatching up the most valuable computer equipment. He had it shipped to locations near his Palmdale home and then sold it online or to computer re-sellers. Prosecutors say he then pocketed the proceeds.
Bolden is accused of receiving government computers from agencies all over the country. But Jennings says the case is being prosecuted in Tacoma because of the heads-up work of a GSA Office of Inspector General agent who received a tip about possible abuse of the computer program and followed leads all the way to Bolden.
Bolden has pleaded “not guilty” to charges including mail and wire fraud and is awaiting trial.