HOUSTON (CN) – An alumnus claims he was pressured into giving $40,000 to Strake Jesuit College Preparatory school to ensure his son’s admission, and the school took the money but didn’t admit his son. He wants his money back, and punitive damages.
The school is the only named defendant, though the complaint refers by names throughout to its officers and volunteers.
Michael Bardwill claims he was introduced to Strake’s president, Fr. Daniel Lahart, and to N.J. Santarcangelo, its development director, by Strake Jesuit “parents and supporters,” Lisa and Victor Miranda.
“The Mirandas knew that plaintiff was an alumnus of Strake Jesuit and had a son, T.B., who was expected to attend Strake Jesuit,” according to the complaint in Harris County Court.
Bardwill met Lahart and Santarcangelo at a fund raiser, where school officials showed their plans to expand their campus. “Both Lisa Miranda and Santarcangelo remarked that the improvements for which funds were being raised would be there for T.B. when he attended Jesuit,” the complaint states.
Bardwill says Lisa Miranda, a member of a Strake fund-raising committee, called him and told him he would get a call from Santarcangelo to set up another meeting. “She told plaintiff that Santarcangelo planned to solicit a contribution for the school’s expansion project. Ms. Miranda told plaintiff that Jesuit had ‘gotten harder to get into,’ and that if plaintiff intended for his son to attend Jesuit that it was very important that he make a contribution to ensure that his son’s acceptance into the school,” [sic] the complaint states.
Santarcangelo did call, and Bardwill met him for lunch. “Santarcangelo told plaintiff that Jesuit expected him to make a sizable contribution, and that their motto was, ‘Give until it hurts.’ The school was encouraging people to give more than they were comfortable giving,” according to the complaint.
The complaint continues: “Plaintiff asked Santarcangelo how much he was asking for. Santarcangelo wrote down ‘$100,000’ on a piece of paper. Plaintiff told him that he would discuss the matter with his accountant as this was a sizable request. Plaintiff then told Santarcangelo that if a large contribution was made that he expected that his son would be admitted to Jesuit and benefit from it. Santarcangelo smiled and said, ‘Of course,’ indicating that he understood that this was the condition upon which plaintiff would be willing to contribute.”
Lisa Miranda called him “a day or two” later, and “reiterated that Jesuit was now more difficult to get into and this if he intended for his son to go to Jesuit, that as an insider that she was strongly advising that plaintiff needed to make a significant contribution in order to ensure a place at Jesuit for T.B.,” the complaint states.
Bardwill claims Miranda told him that she and her husband were giving the school $30,000, and that he could “make a pledge and pay it over 5 years.”
Bardwill says he agreed to pay $50,000 over 5 years. He adds, “Lisa Miranda called the next day to say that Fr. Lahart was very happily surprised with the amount and was very appreciative. He asked if that was enough. Miranda assured plaintiff that T.B. would have no problem getting into Jesuit – that his contribution would ensure that T.B. was admitted.”
Bardwill says he ponied up $40,000 in four installments, from 2006-2009, always in December. He says he attended numerous events with Lahart and Santarcangelo during this time and that “At no time did Lahart or Santarcangelo even imply that T.B. might not be admitted to Jesuit.”
But it didn’t happen. Bardwill says his son scored poorly on the admissions test, took the test again, and then was told that his son would not be admitted to Strake.
He says he got a letter telling him that his son had been rejected “because ‘he wouldn’t be happy’ there.”
Bardwill says he complained to Lahart, and that Lahart told him that Richard Nevele, apparently a Strake admissions officer, had made the decision not to accept his son. “Fr. Lahart then said, for the first time since the contributions were solicited, that the admission committee made admissions decisions ‘without knowledge of’ contributions.”
Bardwill says, “This was a contradiction to express and implicit promises made by Santarcangelo at the time the contribution was solicited.”
Bardwill says he said as much to Lahart, and that “Fr. Lahart responded that he would not return the money, but that he could understand if plaintiff did not complete his pledge.”
You bet I won’t, Bardwill says, and he wants the $40,000 back too.
He also seeks punitive damages for fraud and negligent misrepresentation.
He is represented by Kristen Capps of Spring.