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Six charged in $3m New York school computer bid-rigging scam

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An ex-New York schools superintendent was among six people charged with nicking $3 million through a computer bid-rigging scam yesterday.

Celestine Miller and her husband, William Harris, were allegedly paid $1 million for their part in the scheme, which siphoned off cash meant for school computers.

The bribe came from Thomas Kontogiannis, a millionaire developer, authorities said.

It included several European trips, two houses, at least $10,000 in payments for American Express bills, $80,000 in contributions to "Friends of Celestine Miller" - for her failed 1998 Republican congressional campaign, and $50,000 in cash - which was handed over in a brown paper bag, today's New York Post reports.

In all, $6 million was steered in rigged contracts over three years to Kontogiannis and his mates via a series of phoney bids. Just $3 million went towards computers and services in the 19 designated schools in Queens, New York -leaving kids with old and virtually worthless kit, authorities said.

The gang were rumbled when a low bidder became suspicious after failing to win a contract and complained to the authorities.

All six, including Kontogiannis' lawyer Raymond Shain, and Kinson Tso - the owner of the Long Island computer company that "won" the bids, were charged with bribery and related crimes.

"Brazen does not describe Celestine Miller," said Edward Stancik, the Special Schools Investigator whose office conducted the probe.

Miller's lawyer, Ron Russon, countered: "She's a distinguished educator, not a felon."

The District Attorney's office is suing the six for $6.3 million.

In related news, ZapMe Corp has been forced to withdraw it offer of free computers to US schools. It planned to send ads to student's PCs in return for the service, but reportedly got bad publicity for trying to commercialise the classroom. ®

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