A federal prosecutor grilled a defense witness Monday about alleged kickbacks he made to his sister who ran a Lee County charter school that received millions in public money.
“You owe your sister a lot, don’t you?” assistant U.S. Attorney Winston Holliday asked Antonio Dinkins, 36, the younger brother of Benita Dinkins-Robinson, former executive director of a now-defunct charter in Bishopville.
“She’s the closest relative I have,” replied Dinkins, one of several family members Dinkins-Robinson employed at the school.
Federal prosecutors allege Dinkins and other family members at the school received overly large cash payments in federal money and then – using several shell corporations – quietly funnelled some of the money back to Dinkins-Robinson, 40.
Earlier Monday, Dinkins, a defense witness, told the jury he had formed a company called New Age Computers that sold new and refurbished computers, laptops, flat screen televisions and smartboards to his sister’s school. She also employed him to serve as a teacher’s aide, a chaperone on field trips and to do some cleaning, he testified.
“She paid you for New Age Computers as long as you were willing to kick back part of money she paid you, right?” Holliday asked.
Holliday: “She was making a lot of money from your business, wasn’t she?”
Dinkins: “No, sir.”
Dinkins-Robinson’s trial entered its third week Monday. U.S. Judge Terry Wooten canceled court several days because of scheduling conflicts and weather. So far, the prosecution has put up 13 witnesses; the defense, about 20.
Despite the uneven court pace, the jury Monday appeared attentive watching the verbal duels between lawyers Holliday and Eleazar Carter, who represents Dinkins-Robinson.
Holliday has sought to show that Dinkins-Robinson transferred hundreds of thousands of dollars from the school’s bank account, which received much of its money from federal funds, to shell companies she created and controlled, then spent the money on personal items.
In Monday’s testimony, Holliday during cross-examination showed defense witnesses numerous copies of checks and bank statements from various Dinkins-Robinson companies.
Dinkins-Robinson has not yet testified; it is unclear whether she will. If she does, she will almost certainly be asked about the mysterious dissppearance of thousands of school financial records and invoices prosecutors say were last known to be in her possession. FBI Agent Julie Bitzel testified earlier about the missing documents.
Easton Wells and Pam Frazier Dixon, two former board members of Dinkins-Robinson’s school, testified Monday they had no idea anything was amiss when large transfers of school money went to companies controlled by her.
Dinkins-Robinson is charged with embezzling money from the U.S. Department of Education and various U.S. Department of Agriculture food and nutrition programs, money that should have gone for her students. She has pleaded not guilty to the thefts, which allegedly took place between 2007 and 2013 at Mary L. Dinkins Higher Learning Academy in Bishopville. The school closed in 2013.
The trial is expected to end this week.