Today’s news:

Maspeth high school janitors stole: City

A 37-year-old Ridgewood high school employee and a 45-year-old man who previously worked at the school have been accused of stealing an estimated $60,000 in city education funds through fraudulent payroll checks, the city's special commissioner of investigation said.

Karen Nowaski, of Maspeth, allegedly stole more than $60,000 during a period of five years when she worked at Grover Cleveland High School, at 21-27 Himrod St. in Ridgewood, said city Special Commissioner of Investigation Richard Condon. Nowaski had worked as the high school's custodial secretary, Condon said.

Nowaski is suspected of taking $30,000 in funds by forging and cashing fraudulent payroll checks as well as obtaining an additional $30,000 by increasing her hourly wage without authorization, Condon said. She is believed to have been aided by John Lotito, of Brooklyn, who previously worked as a custodian at the school, the special commissioner said.

Nowaski is alleged to have extorted $9,000 from Lotito in exchange for her keeping silent on his involvement in the scheme, Condon said. During an interview with the office of the city's Special Commissioner of Investigations, Nowaski denied under oath that she had received a payment from Lotito, Condon said.

But both Nowaski and Lotito allegedly admitted to their roles in the scheme, a spokeswoman for Condon said.

Neither Nowaski nor Lotito is still employed at Grover Cleveland High School and Condon said he has recommended that they should both be barred from working for the city's Department of Education. The special commissioner said that he referred his findings to Queens District Attorney Richard Brown.

A DA spokeswoman said Brown's office was investigating the alleged scheme. But she said that no arrests had been made and neither former school employee had been charged.

Reach reporter Nathan Duke by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 156.

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