Natomas Unified School District officials are set to remove a newly elected member from her leadership positions on Tuesday night amid a growing state investigation spanning years into allegations she defrauded the district of thousands of dollars in speech therapy costs.
Ericka Harden, who was narrowly elected to the Natomas school board in November, has been under investigation by the California Department of Consumer Affairs since at least 2017, according to records The Sacramento Bee obtained through a Public Records Act request.
The state’s scrutiny has intensified in recent months, with investigators assigning the district to receipts, emails and other documents regarding Harden’s speech-language pathology work with children in the district. Receipts show Harden asking for more than $ 16,000 from dozens of voice services in 2016 and 2017.
An agenda for Tuesday night’s special meeting says, “The Trustees will discuss the temporary removal of Trustee Harden from serving in an executive position on the board or representing a committee until an outstanding legal issue is resolved.” District officials declined to comment before the meeting.
In an interview with The Bee, Harden said she was innocent of the alleged wrongdoing.
“None of these allegations are substantiated,” Harden said. “It’s really just an effort to try and make me want to quit the board. Just that easy.
“I was voted on by the people. And I’m here to stay. If and when someone chooses to go ahead with any type of legal action, I rejoice because I know I haven’t done anything wrong. “
Harden, who serves as the council clerk, has long held a valid speech-language pathology assistant license, state records show. Records show she was a consultant with Natomas Unified School District who worked with the children, sometimes taking them out of class to help them with their speech.
Invoices and emails bearing his name were then sent to the district for reimbursement.
In January 2017, a district official appeared to be suspicious of some of the documents that were arriving. The invoices omitted his registration number. “Stop processing (sic) receipts from this vendor without license documentation,” one person wrote.
A few months later, in April 2017, regulators at the Department of Consumer Affairs imposed a $ 1,000 citation on Harden for failing to provide documents and cooperating in an investigation. Harden said she tried to appeal the citation, but was told it was too late.
Harden, in an interview on Tuesday, said someone had “made up” the bills using his name. She said she had never done anything illegal involving the district or with its speech services, that she cooperated with investigators and that the claims for reimbursement were fraudulent.
“There wasn’t at a time when there was an exchange of money between a unified school district in Natomas and myself,” she said. “I think that clarifies everything. So I’m not the fish they’re trying to fry. I’m just the one caught in the crossfire. “
Ahead of the election, Harden registers several companies
In an email dated Jan. 24, 2018, a district official said he was made aware of the ongoing review by a state consumer department investigator who took over after the initial leadership of the company was removed. the case.
The new state investigator told district officials they would do a ‘photo shoot’ as part of his exam and also get a student’s attendance records to see if they matched the bills. voice services from Harden.
This affair has dragged on since. During this time, Harden diversified his work.
In 2019, status registers show she filed papers to form a nonprofit arts council based at her home. The goal statement, she wrote, was to “enable people with disabilities to have access to all forms of art.” A place where they can be fully integrated. ”
She said a related day program she enrolled in 2020, also away from home, went “hand in hand” with the artistic program. Harden also registered a business called Ganja Express in 2016 to join the growing list of new cannabis stores in the region, but she was not among those who were licensed.
Last fall, in his contest for the school board, Harden, who is black, reported that his campaign signs had been vandalized by racist insults. Harden won the race with only around 300 votes.
On December 7, 2020, a month after his election, a Department of Consumer Affairs investigator signed a subpoena demanding that school district officials appear before regulators and deliver certified copies of receipts allegedly from Harden’s speech services. as well as emails containing complaints about his work.
It’s unclear what the state’s investigation found in the months that followed. A spokesperson for the Consumer Affairs Department did not return a request for comment on Tuesday.
Officials from Natomas Unified School said, “District and council will not have any further comments on this matter until council has a chance to discuss it in the open session.”
Special Tuesday Board Meeting starts at 6.15 p.m.