Longtime Charlotte Catholic High principal Jerry Healy pleaded guilty in federal court Friday morning to embezzling more than $160,000.
According to new documents filed in the case, Healy wrote checks to himself or had an assistant do it. In some cases, he forged the assistant’s signature, the documents say. The checks were drawn on Bank of America accounts for the school and the school’s foundation.
A letter announcing Healy’s resignation said the money was used by Healy to pay for overseas travel as well as payments to families who did not attend the school. Court documents say the activity took place between 2007 and February 2014. Healy resigned the following May. He had been at the school for 11 years and had worked for the Diocese of Charlotte for 44 years.
Friday, he pleaded guilty to one count of possession or use of counterfeited securities, a felony punishable by a maximum 10 years in prison. He will be sentenced at a later hearing although Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin Zolot told a U.S. magistrate that his office is recommending probation.
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Until then, Healy will be placed on a conditional release that allows him to return home but forbids him from traveling outside the Western District of North Carolina unless a probation officer says otherwise.
As he listened to the judge, Healy occasionally lowered his head as one of his attorneys, Bob McDonnell, placed his hand on Healy’s back. About eight people watched the proceedings. One woman stifled tears as the judge accepted Healy’s plea.
Healy declined to comment after the hearing. His attorneys issued a statement on his behalf:
“Jerry Healy is deeply sorry for his actions and the hurt and disappointment he caused,” the statement reads. “His mishandling of funds resulted in the end of a remarkable 44 years in the Charlotte Catholic school system, during which time he transformed the lives of countless students and families.”
As he left the federal courthouse, Healy wrapped his arms around the people crowded around him.
Healy’s departure from the school stunned the Charlotte Catholic community, in which Healy was seen as a popular and charismatic leader.
Norm George, president of the Charlotte Catholic Foundation, said the U.S. Attorney’s Office made the decision to bring charges against Healy, not the foundation. He said the foundation would continue to work “zealously” for the families and students it represents.
“We will continue to pray for Mr. Healy,” George said.
In a statement, the Diocese of Charlotte calls prosecutors’ findings of Healy’s mishandling of funds “an unfortunate incident that will not impact the instruction, tuition or fees of Charlotte Catholic High School students” or any Catholic school in Mecklenburg County.
The statement specifies that the Diocese does not control or manage the high school foundation, and solicits prayers “for all who were hurt by this unfortunate situation.”
In 2014, Healy’s attorney said the former principal used the money to help current and former Charlotte Catholic students and their families. The money, McDonnell said then, was used to pay students’ tuition, buy lunch for students and staff who could not afford it, pay for tutoring and help with mortgage, utility and medical payments.
McDonnell said the foundation did not establish procedures for how money should be allocated, and he suggested that Healy used money donated to a separate account set up in memory of the principal’s daughter, Megan, who died in 1996.
The court documents released on Friday don’t specifically mention that fund, which is separate from the high school and foundation accounts, George said.
McDonnell on Friday declined to comment.
At the time of Healy’s departure, diocesan leaders said Healy could not or would not provide details about “checks written to himself, family members and others.”
The bill of information filed by federal prosecutors in the case said Healy “did knowingly make, utter and possess counterfeited and forged securities” totaling $161,639 that affected interstate or foreign commerce.
Jonathan McFadden: 704-358-6045, @JmcfaddenObsGov