Principal in court; lawyer says charges won't stand
A Freeport middle school principal accused by state officials of submitting false fingerprints when he was hired a decade ago is unlikely to be prosecuted for such a crime because the statute of limitations has passed, his lawyer and legal experts said Monday.
Edward Jenks, an attorney for suspended J.W. Dodd Middle School Principal John O'Mard, said Monday that the allegations are about an action that took place more than five years ago. That is the legal time limit to prosecute most felonies, and it is just one reason that a charge for submitting false fingerprints is unlikely to hold up in court, Jenks said. The second reason is that the card containing the alleged fake fingerprints has since been destroyed, Jenks said.
A state education spokesman confirmed last week that the card submitted by O'Mard in 2004 was destroyed after his clearance was issued, per regulations. A digitally scanned image of the card remains on file.
"Until I see a real hard copy of the fingerprint card, and can have a fingerprint expert compare it to his fingerprints, it's all meaningless to me," said Jenks, of Mineola.
O'Mard, 44, of Freeport, pleaded not guilty last week to four counts of third-degree criminal sexual act and was released on bail. If convicted, he faces up to 4 years in prison.
A spokesman for Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice said last week she is investigating the allegations that O'Mard submitted false fingerprints. The spokesman had no comment Monday on whether the statute of limitations was a factor.
O'Mard did not comment after a brief court conference Monday.
Fred Klein, a professor at Hofstra Law School and former Major Offense Bureau Chief for the Nassau district attorney's office, said he could not think of a way that O'Mard could be charged with a crime. "It could certainly affect his employment, but I can't see how he could be prosecuted," Klein said.
State education officials said they first learned that O'Mard had faked his fingerprints last week after he was charged with having sex with a 16-year-old graduate of the middle school he has headed since 2003.
Freeport school officials said they were shocked to learn O'Mard served almost a year in jail after a 1990 conviction for felony grand larceny and that he was convicted in 1987 of misdemeanor petty larceny.
State Education Department spokesman Dennis Tompkins said Monday the fingerprints O'Mard submitted to the state in 2004 did not match those of anyone in the department system or on file with the Division of Criminal Justice Services or FBI.
Freeport school officials said O'Mard has been "administratively reassigned" pending the investigation's outcome.
Tompkins said Monday most fingerprints taken from applicants to his department are scanned electronically. In 2004, it was more common for applicants to be fingerprinted at a local police department or BOCES office. Tompkins said the state is working to regulate fingerprinting procedures so applicants can't hide criminal records.
New York City education officials said they were aware of the arrests when they hired him as a substitute teacher in 1993.