The acting headmaster of Madison Park Vocational Technical High School in Boston was placed on administrative leave Wednesday amid a federal investigation of his alleged role in a multiple-state credit fraud ring.
Queon Jackson, 39, of Milton is the second Boston school headmaster to spark controversy about alleged criminal activities in less than a year. Last summer, School Superintendent Carol R. Johnson came under fire for taking no disciplinary action against the co-headmaster of the John D. O’Bryant School of Mathematics and Science after learning he was briefly jailed for punching and choking his wife.
This time, school officials placed Jackson on leave as soon as they learned he has been under investigation by the US Secret Service in allegedly fraudulently obtaining credit and then not paying the bills. A teacher may also be involved, according to someone who was briefed on the inquiry.
“Queon Jackson has been placed on paid leave, effective immediately,” said Boston public schools spokesman Matthew Wilder. “At this point, it is based on new information we received today.”
Jackson was placed on leave as the Globe was questioning the district about why Jackson was promoted in September, despite past run-ins with the law. In 2000, before he was hired by the school system, Jackson admitted to sufficient facts for a finding of guilty in a drug case and a domestic abuse case that required him to take an anger management class. This type of plea is commonly used by defendants to avoid a criminal record.
Johnson’s spokesman said she had no knowledge of past criminal charges against Jackson when she promoted him because her human resources department, which does employee background checks, tells her only of applicants’ criminal convictions.
As recently as Tuesday, school officials were defending Jackson, saying there was nothing in his criminal record that would “disqualify him from employment.”
“These incidents happened more than 13 years ago,” said Wilder. “Certainly Queon has done a job up to par.”
Jackson did not respond to requests for comment.
His leave comes months after the controversy over Rodney Peterson, the former co-headmaster of the O’Bryant School who admitted that a jury could have found him guilty of assaulting his wife. Johnson faced calls for her resignation after the Globe reported that she not only failed to discipline him when he was arrested in June 2011, but wrote a letter in support of Peterson to the judge who sentenced him. Peterson resigned in June 2012 to take a job out of state.
Jackson, who has been employed by the Boston schools since 2000, is under investigation for allegedly participating in a “credit-fixing scheme,” which typically involves using false identification to get credit, and then racking up large bills and not paying them, according to the official briefed on the matter.
School officials have questioned Jackson about the case, the official said. Jackson asserted he was victimized by someone who stole his identity to try to buy a car, the official said.
Jackson, who earned $133,000 in 2011, benefited from Boston’s criminal background screening policy, which is less strict than those of eight other school school systems reviewed by the Globe. Those school systems give their superintendents discretion to consider nonconvictions and any other information the superintendents consider relevant in determining whether to hire or promote someone.
“We look at the totality of the circumstances,” said Heather Richards, director of human resources for Newton public schools. Richards said that if a candidate had cases that were resolved in the way that Jackson’s drug charges and assault were — called “continuances without a finding” — school officials would “dig deeper” to make sure the circumstances would not disqualify him or her.
Most of Jackson’s legal troubles occurred in three separate incidents in 2000, when he was employed by the state as a social worker.
He admitted to sufficient facts for a guilty finding in a domestic violence case involving a former girlfriend. He was placed on probation, sent to an anger management program, and ordered to stay away from the woman. The case was dismissed six months later.
That same year, Jackson also faced charges in a case involving a 3-pound package of white powder believed to have been cocaine. He was arrested by the US Drug Enforcement Administration at Logan International Airport Jan 24, 2000, after he placed a leather bag containing the package into another man’s car.
The other man told police he had arranged for Jackson to travel to Houston to buy cocaine. The drugs turned out to be counterfeit, and Jackson was charged with possession with intent to distribute counterfeit drugs.
Jackson admitted sufficient facts for a finding of guilt and was ordered to pay $285. The case was dismissed after six months. However, officials in East Boston District Court issued two default warrants against Jackson while the drug case was pending, suggesting he had not shown up for court appearances.
In April 2000, he left his job as a social worker at what was then called the Department of Social Services.
Four months later, Jackson, the son of a longtime School Department employee, landed a job in the Boston public schools as a provisional teacher while his criminal cases were still active in the court system. It was unclear whether the School Department ran a criminal background check at that time.
Jackson rose through the ranks quickly, working stints as a teacher, student discipline coordinator, and a special education coordinator.
Then around 2004 he moved to Madison Park, where he won several promotions. He initially served as an assistant director of school climate and then three years later was named assistant headmaster and chief operating officer.
Johnson appointed Jackson as acting headmaster in early September, days before school started and after a search for a permanent headmaster fell apart over the summer.
In addition to being unaware of Jackson’s criminal record, Johnson’s office also acknowledged it did not know that Jackson had serious financial problems as late as 2012. In that year, the state Department of Revenue issued a lien against him for not paying sufficient taxes in 2009. Before the lien was removed in August, he owed the state $6,385.47 in taxes and interest, according to court records.
School officials also were unaware that Jackson lost his $209,000 Brockton home in a foreclosure in 2007.
School spokesman Wilder said that the School Committee has no policy encouraging the department to review job applicants’ financial background and “this is not part of our practice.”
However, Johnson had said she would consider reviewing financial records after the departure of Peterson, who also faced serious financial difficulties that her office was unaware of.
Jackson’s appointment was not well received by some teachers and other employees at Madison Park. They say he lacks the proper certification to serve as acting headmaster of a vocational school.
In the fall, a group of Madison Park teachers urged the School Department to replace Jackson immediately, according to a letter they addressed to John McDonough, the School Department’s chief financial officer who was filling in for Johnson while she was tending to her sick husband in Tennessee.
“He cannot make decisions in a timely fashion, but will not allow administrators to make decisions on their own,” they wrote in the letter, which was copied to Johnson.
“He says yes to everything, but never follows through. He does not have a good understanding of vocational education, but will not listen to the advice of those who do.”
But other teachers supported his leadership.
“He made the school run and operate without skipping a beat,” said one teacher who asked not to be named. “The kids are going to be devastated if he leaves.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story gave the wrong name for US Drug Enforcement Administration.