Volume 20 Issue 13 | August 10 - 16, 2007

Downtown principal removed after Santeria ceremony

By Jennifer Milne

A Soho high school principal was removed from her job Aug. 7, following allegations that she engaged in Santeria rituals in the school involving dripping chicken blood on the floors.

Maritza Tamayo, principal at The Unity Center for Urban Technologies, located at 121 Sixth Ave., has been under investigation by the Office of the Special Commissioner of Investigation for the New York City School District since February. An anonymous caller reported several allegations against Tamayo, including Santeria practices that were intended to “calm the students down,” according to a report released yesterday by Special Commissioner of Investigation Richard Condon.

Tamayo is no longer the school’s principal and the Dept. of Ed. has started the process to fire her.

The Unity Center for Urban Technologies, founded in 1992, is a 178-student high school that emphasizes small classes to teach new technologies, according to its Web site.

Department of Education spokesperson Marge Feinberg said Unity was once a “second chance” school for dropouts and became a regular academic high school about seven years ago.

Tamayo is accused of coercing Melody Crooks-Simpson, the assistant principal of Unity High School until July 2006, into paying $900 for Santeria ritual ceremonies. The ceremonies, according to investigators, were performed by Tamayo’s neighbor, Gilda Fonte, and involved white robes, elephant plant leaves and candles.

Keenan Britt, the school’s former computer service technician, told investigators that Tamayo frequently commented to him that “the school had negative energy and she needed to get rid of the problem.” Britt said Tamayo told him that Fonte “does rituals, Santeria, it’s called black magic.”

The report stated Tamayo asked Crooks-Simpson to attend and participate in a Santeria ceremony during the school’s mid-winter break in 2006, in which Fonte would “sprinkle chicken blood on the building.” Crooks-Simpson did not attend that ceremony, but was present three days later at the school, at another ceremony where Fonte read Tarot cards.

According to the report, Crooks-Simpson said she was apprehensive about being involved, but that Tamayo told her, “It’s not going to work without you.”

Crooks-Simpson told investigators that, following the second ceremony, Tamayo approached her and told her the cost of the Tarot card reading was $1,800 and would she, Crooks-Simpson, pay half of it. Crooks-Simpson wrote a $900 check on March 20, 2006, and it was deposited in Tamayo’s account a week later.

In addition to allegations of Santeria, the report says that Tamayo kept a voodoo doll in her office and also used $350 in school funds and teacher contributions to hire a car service to transport five students to their Regents exams. The report suggests Tamayo threatened to fire a teacher if the teacher didn’t front most of the money for the car service.

The school’s current assistant principal, Ira Simmonds, is accused of writing the purchase order for the car service and Condon recommended “appropriate disciplinary action” for him.

Tamayo could not be reached for comment but she denied the allegations to the New York Post, adding she was a Lutheran and did not practice Santeria, an Afro-Caribbean religion. Santeria ceremonies often include animal sacrifices, dancing and singing invocations to the orisha, or deities.

According to the report, Tamayo denied taking part in any religious ceremony at the school. Tamayo told investigators that the $900 check was to cover Crooks-Simpson’s stay at Tamayo’s Cancun timeshare in spring 2005. Crooks-Simpson told investigators she paid Tamayo $1,200 for the trip in Dec. 2004, and the $900 was for the ceremony.

Special Investigator Condon recommended that Tamayo “be made ineligible for work with the D.O.E.”

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