The trial of a former leader of a defunct charter school will begin Tuesday.
40-year-old Benita Dinkins-Robinson is charged with two counts of theft of government property. She has pleaded not guilty in the case that stems from an investigation into a former charter school which operated in Bishopville and Sumter for six years.
Dinkins-Robinson ran the Mary L. Dinkins Higher Learning Academy from 2007 to 2013. The school had a tumultuous history, fighting several years of legal battles with state education officials over allegations of poor student test scores and misused money.
The South Carolina Public Charter School District’s board eventually revoked the Bishopville school’s charter in 2012 and asked the State Law Enforcement Division to investigate reports of fraud. But the academy reopened without state approval in a Sumter church as a countersuit made its way through the court system. A judge ordered it closed for good in March 2013.
Then last year, Dinkins-Robinson was indicted on charges of illegally converting funds from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Education for her own use. An indictment handed down last May accuses her of stealing Agriculture Department funds meant for school nutrition and special education grant money from the US Education Department.
She faces up to 10 years in prison for each charge.
Mary L. Dinkins Academy had been part of the Lee County School District, but transferred to the statewide district under a probationary arrangement in 2010. But the board voted to revoke its charter only two years later. Roughly 140 children attended the school when it was shut down.
Judge Terry Wooten is presiding over the case.