Consultant guilty of stealing from schools

A Long Island technology consultant was convicted of mail fraud Monday for stealing $1.7 million from the New York City Board of Education while overseeing a project to wire city schools for Internet access.

Willard "Ross" Lanham, 58, of East Northport, used funds intended for schoolchildren to pay for a "lavish" lifestyle, prosecutors said -- buying a fleet of luxury cars including a Corvette, Porsche, Lexus and Mercedes, and building "high-end" houses in Bethpage, Bridgehampton and East Northport.

He was found guilty of theft and three counts of mail fraud by a jury in federal court in Manhattan after less than three hours of deliberation. His sentencing was scheduled for June 21.

Lanham made $200,000 a year for overseeing "Project Connect" beginning in 2000. He was accused of hiring five workers, including his brother, to assist him, then billing subcontractors for their work at substantial markups, all without authorization from the school system.

According to a city investigation, Lanham's brother made $40 an hour for his assistance, but Lanham billed $175 an hour, and profit margins added by other contractors produced a final cost to the Department of Education of $225 an hour. The overbilling scheme continued from 2002 until Willard Lanham was let go in 2008.

Lanham and his defense lawyer had no comment as they left court Monday. He faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison on each mail fraud count, and 10 years on the theft charge.

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