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Teacher quits over hidden criminal past

Published Oct. 10, 2005

An Orlando high school teacher has resigned rather than answer allegations that he failed to disclose his hidden criminal past on his job application.

School officials began investigating Thomas Elbert Richmond after the St. Petersburg Times reported his criminal record last month in a series about four Hillsborough judges who misused Florida's sealing law.

One of those judges, Harry Lee Coe III, sealed four cases for Richmond in 1980, though lawmakers intended that nobody get more than one case sealed.

Two of the charges were for dealing marijuana to undercover Tampa police in 1974. The other two were sex crimes against girls in 1976.

The sealing law allows people to lie about their criminal history _ except if they apply for certain sensitive jobs, including teaching.

But Richmond swore his record was clean and got a job in 1990 teaching social studies to high school students in Orlando.

Orlando school officials planned to meet with Richmond last Friday "to present him with allegations that he was untruthful on his job application," said John B. Hawco, senior manager of employee relations in the Orange County school district.

The meeting was called off after discussions with Richmond's attorney, Barry Caskey of Tampa.

"His attorney suggested that he be permitted to resign, and that was fine with us," Hawco said.

Richmond's resignation was to take effect today, Hawco said. Richmond will not receive any severance pay or other benefits.

Caskey and Richmond could not be reached.

His state teaching certificate may be in jeopardy, as well. Hawco has alerted the officials who investigate teacher misconduct for the the state Department of Education. Those officials were unavailable Monday.

Richmond applied to the state for a temporary teaching certificate in 1988. The application asked if he had been convicted or found guilty of any crime. Richmond answered no, just as he did on his Orlando job application.

Richmond can't teach in Florida without a certificate. Even if he keeps his certificate, it's unlikely he will ever be rehired as a teacher, Hawco said.

"Hypothetically, if someone were to resign under these circumstances, I doubt that they would be employed again," he said.