BY DAVID OVALLE AND JIMENA TAVEL
Updated September 29, 2018 05:27 PM
The former head of the North Miami Adult Education Center is guilty of handing out no-show jobs in exchange for illegal cash payments, a jury decided late Friday night.
Jean Ridore, 51, was found guilty of two counts of illegal compensation, official misconduct and grand theft. He was immediately jailed to await sentencing. Ridore faces up to 40 years in prison.
The Miami-Dade school district runs the school based at North Miami High for more than 4,500 students at multiple campuses in the northeast region of the county. The school is billed as the largest and most successful adult-education program in Miami-Dade.
Ridore was a well-known mover and shaker in North Miami’s Haitian-American community, and his role overseeing the city’s night school was an important one for immigrants needing to perfect their English, earn their GED or learn vocational skills.
A graduate of the program itself, Ridore’s story was local education lore. He was too old to enroll in high school when he arrived from Haiti in the late 1980s, and after graduating he went on to earn degrees from Miami Dade College, Florida International University and Barry University.
“Now I’m back,” Ridore told the Miami Herald in 2006 in a story about the program helping Haitian immigrants learn English.
At the North Miami Adult Education Center, he oversaw more than 400 staffers and pulled in a salary of more than $110,000. As principal, he also had wide authority over personnel, district administrators testified on Tuesday.
“They have complete autonomy over who gets hired at their school,” the school district’s head of human resources, Dennis Carmona, told jurors.
Public corruption investigators targeted Ridore after receiving complaints that the principal had long “operated the school in an inappropriate manner” by hiring as many as 20 “ghost employees” who were paid but never showed up for work.
Investigators with the State Attorney’s Office Public Corruption Task Force and the Miami-Dade County Inspector General’s Office learned that two ex-employees got paid more than $14,000 in total, despite them being out of the country during their supposed work periods, according to court documents.
The crux of the case rested on an undercover Miami detective, Jose Mercedes, who posed as a handyman named “Ali Cabral.” He and Ridore exchanged calls and had meetings. Eventually, the paperwork was submitted to the school district.
“Don’t worry about it. The job is going to be yours,” Ridore said, according to the the detective’s testimony.
At trial, prosecutors Sandra Miller Batiste and Marie Perikles presented several undercover recordings that detailed the detective’s meetings and calls with the principal. In July 2015, the two met inside Ridore’s SUV and the undercover detective paid him $1,000. Ridore told the undercover cop: “It’s your job … you don’t have to do nothing, man,” according to an undercover recording of the encounter.
“If somebody come to you and say I asked you give money — that’s not true,” he instructed the undercover officer.
Weeks went by and the officer never went to work. Ridore also never “instructed” him to attend work, the warrant said. The officer met up again with Ridore to pay him half of his salary. Once Ridore accepted the cash, he was arrested.
At trial, defense attorney Manuel Casabielle argued that police entrapped Ridore. Jurors deliberated Friday night just about an hour before rejecting the defense.