Recently Departed School Board President Charged Personal Expenses to New Rochelle Taxpayers

Written By: Robert Cox

City School District of New Rochelle Records pertaining to Jeffrey Hastie’s International Calling Plan

NEW ROCHELLE, NY — Records obtained by Talk of the Sound show that Jeffrey Hastie, whose term as New Rochelle Board of Education President and Board Member ended two weeks ago, on June 30th, used a District mobile phone to make and receive, expensive, international phone calls for personal reasons which were then paid for out of District funds intended for board members to attend educational conferences.

Hastie racked up thousands of dollars in international voice and data charges during a three month period while on vacation in Europe and Africa with his girlfriend including over $400 in data charges on a cruise ship and close to $600 during a two-day visit to Morocco. In the months after Talk of the Sound first raised questions about his phone bill in March, Hastie sought to blame District staff for giving him the “wrong plan” despite knowing by then that the District is only eligible for one type of international calling plan.

The School Business Office staffer who refused to pay Hastie’s excessive overages was subsequently fired. The bill was instead paid by the School Clerk out of her budget.

Despite multiple Freedom of Information requests over the past several months, school officials have failed to produce any records to support repeated claims by Hastie that his unprecedented use of a taxpayer-funded mobile phone while on personal international travel was for business purposes.

Prior to Hastie, no school board member ever sought let alone obtained an international calling plan for their District-provided mobile phone, according to past board members and school administrators. School Board Presidents were first given a mobile phone for District business about 10 years ago, prior to that a landline was installed at the home of Board Presidents. Those who have traveled outside the United States say they left their District phones at home while abroad.

Between October 9, 2018 and December 20, 2018, Jeffrey Hastie repeatedly exceeded the voice and data limits under the International Travel Plan (250 MB, Minutes, Messages) attached to the black 64 MB Samsung Galaxy 8 phone provided to him at taxpayer expense by the City School District of New Rochelle, running up $2,104.24 in voice and data charges while vacationing in Europe, Africa and in International Waters.

Hastie has sought to justify the charges on the grounds that he was working on school district business while on trips to Europe to visit his girlfriend who resides in Italy.

While there is no evidence in the records provided by the District that any of the voice or data usage on the phone was business-related there is evidence that some usage was not business-related such as phone calls from Italy to Morocco, calls within Italy and even two calls from the United States to Italy, from Highland Falls, NY and Geneva, NY.

Other calls raise additional questions, especially those from Italy to Texas, California, Iowa, North Carolina, New Jersey and upstate New York.

Hastie is known to have had family in Raleigh, North Carolina and over the past year drove a Mercedes-Benz with North Carolina license plates.

The most prevalent type of calls on Hastie’s Verizon invoices are listed as “Italy / INCOMING CL” which means calls from a landline in the United States to Italy. While the origin point of the calls is not listed, the sheer volume of calls suggests Hastie was making his District phone number widely available to people in the United States then taking hundreds of calls while in Italy, Turkey, Africa and on board a ship in international waters.

In September, 2018, Hastie requested that an international calling plan be added to his Verizon “Govt OGS” E-Rate (government) phone service.

Subsequent emails obtained by Talk of the Sound show that Hastie, who has often claimed to be a technology expert, failed to review the terms of the calling plan or learn how to operate the WiFi settings on the phone. He was not aware that Verizon government phone lines are only eligible for a single, limited, international calling plan perhaps not considering that government employees in New York State are not typically working from a cruise ship on the Mediterranean, the canals of Venice or cities along the coast of North Africa.

Confronted in December by the School Business Office with the full scope of the “substantial charges” he had run up on the taxpayer dime, Hastie demanded district employees convince Verizon to waive the charges by giving him a different (cheaper) plan and backdating the plan to eliminate any voice or data overages. Told this was not allowed under the Verizon government contract, Hastie threw a fit, calling the unwillingness of Verizon to solve a problem of his own making “absurd”. When the District’s Business Office refused to pay for the overages, Hastie directed the Board’s Clerk to fix the problem resulting in the highly unusual step of the Clerk paying for international voice and data charges out of a line item in the school board’s budget earmarked for educational conferences.

Hastie continued to use the phone for another week after a December 15th overage alert that triggered the email exchange with Verizon that ended with Hastie ultimately deciding to stop using his District phone for international voice and data.

Talk of the Sound requested, months ago, all Verizon records in possession of the District for the past five years under a Freedom of Information request. No records have been produced in response to that request. A different request, for all expense reports and related invoices and payments for Jeffrey Hastie — including mobile phone expenses — over the past year resulted in some Verizon records and a statement that Hastie did not file any expense reports.

The records we have obtained, which are not complete, include Verizon invoices, internal funds transfers and internal emails. These records show that Jeffrey Hastie requested a District phone on September 4, 2018 and, in anticipation of travel outside the United States, requested that an international voice and data plan be added to his District phone line.

The records show that Hastie operated in the mistaken belief that he had a plan similar to a consumer plan like Verizon TravelPass which costs $10 per day per line, unlimited use at “domestic plan allowances” for 24 hours at a time, and charges only on days the phone is in use.

There are 73 days between October 9, 2018 and December 20, 2018 so if Hastie had used the phone outside the United States every day (and he did not use it each of those days) the total bill would have been $730. The actual bill was about three times that amount.

The records show that Hastie was told on September 28th, 2018 that the international plan added to his phone was limited to 250 MB/Minutes/Messages at a monthly rate of $85. He was provided information on the countries in the plan’s coverage areas — which ones were in the plan and which ones were in the far more expensive “pay-as-you-go” countries, and links to monitor his usage on a computer or directly on his phone. The records suggest he never bothered to monitor his voice or data usage while traveling outside the United States.

The records show repeated references to a ship, a cruise ship and international waters. He was specifically warned in September, 2018 by the New Rochelle School Business Office that the phone would automatically detect when it was in use in “international waters”.

Verizon sent at least 3 “International Data Overages” alerts to the School Business Office, on October 23rd ($250), October 29th ($25) and December 15th ($100) which were then communicated to Hastie.

Hastie admitted during a radio interview in April 2019 that he was also receiving additional overage alerts on the phone while traveling abroad.

The first phone call that caused an international overage was a 106 minute call from Italy to Winterset, Iowa (a small suburb of Des Moines) on November 1st at 10:00 pm.

After the first data overage on October 23rd, Hastie was notified by the School Business Office that an additional $250 has been added to his data plan.

As the first data overage alert was on October 23rd and the first voice overage alert was November 1st, either one contradicts Hastie’s claims after his astronomical phone bills became widely known.

When his thousands of dollars in international overages were first made by public by Talk of the Sound in April 2019, Hastie claimed that as soon as he became aware of the overages he stopped using the phone. In fact, he continued to use the phone for international voice and data for another two months — and never stopped using the phone while serving out his term as Board President.

Hastie was advised by the School Business Office on October 23rd to use WiFi where possible.

SBO: “Where WiFi exists will help reduce your data cost overall.”

HASTIE: “I am learning how to use android phone,” wrote Hastie. “I just figured that out.”

The claim by the putative technology expert that it took him a month, after hundreds of dollars in data overages, to figure out how to enable WiFi on his phone strains credulity.

A Google Search for “wifi settings android” by Talk of the Sound displays the first result as “How do i connect to wifi on android?” and describes the following steps:

  • Open your device’s Settings app.
  • Tap Network & internet Wi-Fi.
  • Make sure that Wi-Fi is on.
  • At the bottom of the list, tap Add network.
  • If needed, enter the network name (SSID) and security details.
  • Tap Save.

These readily available instructions would appear to be well within the capabilities of most middle school students let alone a self-proclaimed technology expert.

The first call placed on the international plan was for 3 minutes on October 9th at 5:06 pm from Italy to New Rochelle, NY. The last call was December 20th, a 40 minute incoming call from a landline in the United States.

The first “pay-as-you-go” call was at 1:31 pm on November 1st for 12 minutes at a cost of $35.88 from a landline in the United States to Morocco.

The single most expensive call was from a landline in the United States to Morocco for 45 minutes at a cost of $134.55.

Between November 1st at 1:31 pm and November 2nd at 7:39 pm, Hastie made or received 15 voice calls in Morocco which cost $451.49 and incurred $77.40 in data charges so that his whirlwind 30 hour tour of Morocco cost the taxpayer $528.89.

Hastie made two visits to Turkey, likely layovers at Istanbul airport, on October 19th (8 calls) and December 6th (5 calls) at a cost of $17.25.

Hastie incurred an in-flight data charge costing $1.18 on December 6th while in Turkish airspace.

Hastie incurred $414.49 in cruise ship charges during the October 3rd to November 3rd billing cycle.

This last charge is noteworthy because Hastie has repeatedly, vehemently denied that there were any “cruise ship” charges on his phone bill. District records show otherwise.

In an email dated September 28, 2018, Hastie is informed about his 250/250/250 plan: “Jeffrey, I set you up on the following plan starting 10/3 the phone will detect when you are in international waters. 250 data, outgoing texts and talk each. Incoming texts are free. If you happen to over any of the categories the additional charge is $25 for each.”

A Verizon bill for the Billing Cycle September 24th to October 23rd reads “International Data – Cruise Ship – Billable 207244 KB – $414.49.

In an email exchange dated January 8, 2019, in response to Hastie’s fit of pique that Verizon will not waive the $2,104.24 bill, and his request for the School Clerk to resolve the matter for him (i.e., pay the bill), Hastie demands the Clerk’s office ask for an explanation from the Business office as to “what steps were taken to contest the charges as they are substantial.”

Step 2 reads “When the overages started occurring (October 23rd, 2018) I called the help desk (at Verizon), who in turn called Jeffrey to ensure the phone settings were correct (they were). While on the ship and in international waters – ship rates apply, Verizon does not have plans available.”

As a guest on Denise Ward’s WVOX radio show on April 29, 2019, Jeffrey Hastie was asked about a Talk of the Sound Facebook discussion regarding his running up over $2,000 in voice and data charges while traveling abroad and in particular over $400 in charges from a cruise ship. Hastie dismissed the information as “totally ridiculous”, adding but “it just goes to the credibility of the report.”

With the records now in hand, readers can better assess the question of credibility.

Hastie said:

“I have never been on a cruise especially after my brother almost died from being on a cruise I refuse to take cruises so to make a statement that I was making ship to shore calls is kind of ridiculous on the face of it.”

The Verizon records we obtained show that Hastie incurred $414.49 in charges for the use of 207,244 kilobytes of data from a cruise ship in international waters during the period he was known to be on a trip to Europe, between October 3rd and October 23rd, 2018.

There are multiple emails that reference a cruise ship in international waters.

Hastie said:

“Once I found out that these bills were coming as they were cause when I was overseas and I’m getting the updates saying your going over mileage (sic) I reached out to the person who was handling the phone bills…I said this is ridiculous we should be able to when I take my own personal phone calls phone it doesn’t cost that much so since then once I found out that I haven’t used that (sic).”

No. Setting aside his inability to string together a coherent sentence, he admits he was getting notified of overages.

The Verizon records we obtained show that Hastie was first notified of the data overages on October 23rd, 2018 but he did not stop using the phone when he became aware of the overages on October 23; he continued to use the phone until at least December 20th.

He claims he “reached out to the person who was handling the phone bills” when he was getting “updates saying your going over mileage (presumably meaning minutes/data/messages).

No.

He did not “reach out” to anyone, at any time, and certainly not in October or even November. In fact, he ignored every alert to his phone from Verizon as well as overage alerts from Verizon forwarded to him via email by the School Business Office. He ignored concerns expressed by the business office for months; when he did discuss these concerns in December it was because he finally responded to outreach by the School Business Office which was concerned about the high level of recurring international overages.

The emails we obtained show that Hastie did not show any interest at all about the overages until December 17th when he was forwarded a copy of an overages alert dated December 15th by the School Business Office. He responded by saying he had asked the Clerk’s office to look into it.

On Hastie’s behalf, the Clerk’s office called Verizon on December 17, to ask “why the data overages were coming in so frequently?”

So, as Hastie admitted on the radio, he was well aware he was getting frequent overage alerts; these alerts had been sent to his phone for months and he ignored them.

On Hastie’s behalf, the Clerk’s office also asked about the Travel Pass plan and 14 minutes later Hastie sent an email to the Business office and Clerk’s office:

“When conferring with them, they can and should reverse the charges and back bill for the travel pass plan. I’ve had that done on my personal plan,” wrote Hastie.

On January 3rd, 2019, Verizon responded to the School Business office to say the charges to Hastie’s phone were “valid” and that Verizon does not provide “courtesy credits” on “Government and E-rate” accounts.

Based on that response, no further effort was made to dispute the charges and a transfer of $2,104.24 between the Clerk’s office and School Business office was initiated.

Verizon added, in their January 3rd response, that the only international plan offered under the District’s New York OGS contract is the 250/250/250 plan added to Hastie’s line in September and that even if TravelPass was available it would not have been added to the account and backdated.

On January 8th, 2019, Hastie responded to the news that Verizon would not waive the $2.104.24 in international overages.

“That response is absurd. How’s it cheaper to use my personal phone than an erate phone?”

That is a question he might better have asked before, not after, using the phone for months and running up thousands of dollars in overages.

On the radio, Hastie claimed that as soon as he found out about the overages (which would be on October 23, 2018) he said “this is ridiculous” but the records show what he actually said is “that response is absurd” and he did not say that until January 8th, 2019, three months after having already frittered away more than $2,000 in taxpayer money.

On the radio he again claimed, albeit less than artfully, to have said something in October that he actually said the following January:

“We should be able to when I take my own personal phone calls phone it doesn’t cost that much (sic).”

But Hastie had his answer months before – there is only one plan available under the District’s E-Rate account with Verizon, he was given that plan, he was notified in advance he was given that plan and the limitations of that plan and advised about using the phone while on board a ship in international waters, and after he started using the phone he was notified repeatedly, in multiple ways, over a period of three months, that he was incurring significant international voice and data overages.

He then added a statement on the radio that would have the appearance of truth in the context of the records we obtained:

“So since then once I found out that I haven’t used that (sic).”

It is true that after the email on January 8th, 2019 — when he finally realized that his E-Rate plan was not like his personal plan — he did not use the phone for international voice and data; but in the context of the radio interview where listeners did not know about the email on January 8th, he is conveying a falsehood. Namely, that once he became aware of the overages he stopped using the phone. In fact, he never stopped using the phone during his term as Board President, he stopped using it for international voice and data but, in another misrepresentation, he did not stop “once he found out” about the overages. He found out about the overages on October 23rd, 2018 and his last international call was December 20, 2018 — 73 days and $2,104.24 later.

Hastie said:

“We’ve got to resolve with Verizon charging us that much,” he tells Ward, “I’m hoping to get that money back.”

At the time he said this he knew full well that Verizon did not “overcharge” the District and that the effort to have the charges waived ended more than four months earlier.

Hastie said:

“I definitely did rack up a phone bill and my colleagues know about it.”

While it is true that by April 29th, 2019, Hastie’s colleagues on the board knew about the $2,104.24 in overages, they did not know about it from him. Hastie never disclosed his overages to the school board. We contacted multiple board members to ask about a mysterious funds transfer in the Treasurer’s Report published on April 1, 2019, they knew nothing about what turned out to be Hastie’s phone bill. They knew about it by April 29th not because he told them but because by then we had reported on the phone bill and it was widely known.

During the radio interview, when Ward offered Hastie the excuse that it was not his fault, he grabbed it like a drowning man thrown a floatation device:

WARD: “OK. So, they…it’s something with what whatever program was selected. OK. Got it.”

HASTIE: “I went back and forth with our project manager trying even with our district clerk but then said look obviously she doesn’t understand this should the bills should not be this high (sic) we should be able to get a plan that’s like every other person $10 a day but that didn’t happen so I stopped using it.”

The problem was not with the selected “program” because there were no options other than “the program” (the 250/250/250 plan) added to Hastie’s phone, as Hastie knew full long before he spoke to Ward on WVOX.

Prior to this Hastie said:

“I reached out to the person who was handling the phone bills which is our project manager and who was in the finance department and she’s the savings that we made in the budget was that position.”

This is pathetic attempt by Hastie to blame a low-level employee in the School Business Office, a person he had fired months before, in part, because she would not help hide his massive phone bill, while implying that the problems he created with his phone bill justified terminating this person, a woman he callously refers to as “the savings that we made in the budget”.

In addition to hundreds of unidentified calls from landlines in the United States, calls identified only as “Westchester”, the cruise ship data usage, the airplane data usage, 13 calls in Turkey, 5 calls from Italy to Morocco, and 12 calls from Italy to Italy, Hastie made dozens of calls to locations in the United States but not New Rochelle.

From Italy, Hastie made 2 calls (36, 28 minutes) to Raleigh, North Carolina. He made 3 calls (72, 10, 50 minutes) to Los Gatos, California. He made 5 calls (31, 90, 93, 106, 58 minutes) to Winterset, Iowa and a 6th call (85 minutes) to Rock Valley, Iowa. And two 1 minute calls to McKinney, Texas and Cliffside, New Jersey,

Also from Italy, Hastie made 19 calls to New York City (between 1 and 30 minutes), 29 calls to White Plains, NY (between 1 and 30 minutes), 11 calls to Rye, NY (between 1 and 10 minutes), 8 calls to Monticello, NY (between 1 and 20 minutes), 3 calls to Mineola, NY (between 1 and 10 minutes), 1 call to Yorktown Heights (15 minutes), 1 call to Port Chester, NY (3 minutes), 2 calls to Larchmont, NY (1, 3 minutes), and 3 calls to Greenwood Lake, NY (3, 9, 18 minutes).

Only a small percentage of the calls were identified as from Italy to New Rochelle.

There are no expense reports, call logs, notes or other records that explain the purpose of any of these calls. The standard requirement for businesses, mostly in keeping with IRS regulations, is supporting documents for expenses should show the amount paid and a description that shows the amount was for a business expense and the expense reports filed with supporting documentation may not be claimed. In short, the onus is on Jeffrey Hastie to prove that every voice call and every kilobyte downloaded was for a legitimate business purpose. Failing that, the presumption must be that his voice and data usage was personal and he should pay for it.

That Hastie has repeatedly claimed that his use of his taxpayer-funded phone while on vacation in Turkey, Morocco, Italy and on a cruise ship was strictly for District business and that District records show calls TO Italy from the United States, and within Italy, and between Italy and Morocco which are definitely not District business, it is clear that Hastie has lied about the use of the phone and raises the likelihood that Hastie has defrauded the District in order to fund personal phone calls and personal data usage while traveling with his girlfriend.

An investigation is in order.

Unless proven otherwise, Hastie should be compelled to reimburse the District for the entire amount of $2,104.24 — along with whatever other amounts turn up later in an audit.

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