Former Head of Famed Harlem Music School Pleads Guilty to Embezzlement

Classic Arts News   Former Head of Famed Harlem Music School Pleads Guilty to Embezzlement
Katherine Ogonek, the executive director of the Opus 118 Harlem Center for Strings from 1999-2003, has pleaded guilty to stealing more than $40,000 from the school, the Associated Press reports.

According to prosecutors, Ogonek, who was fired in 2003, bought computers, clothing, meals, airline tickets, and other items using an Opus 118 credit card, as well as writing unauthorized checks and paying herself about $13,000. She could have been sentenced to up to four and a half years in prison if convicted at trial, but will receive five years probation under her plea agreement.

Opus 118, founded in 1991 by violinist Roberta Guaspari to teach disadvantaged children to play string instruments, won the support of musicians such as Isaac Stern and Itzhak Perlman. The program's triumphs were depicted in the 1995 documentary Small Wonders and the 1999 feature film Music of the Heart, which starred Meryl Streep as Guaspari.

In 2002, Ogonek told the web site Andante that the program was struggling for funds. "It is by far the most difficult moment Opus 118 has faced," she said.

Ogonek was the executive director of the Westchester Symphony Orchestra in White Plains, New York, from 1997 to 1999. After leaving Opus 118, she was hired at William Paterson University in Wayne, New Jersey, as director of performing arts.

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