Howell teacher caught bragging about using drugs? Suspended after ‘sting’ video
HOWELL — A middle school physical education teacher has been suspended with pay after a video was released this week purporting to show him offering cocaine to undercover conservative activists and bragging about how he uses knowledge of working with police dogs on the school campus to avoid getting caught.
The video, claiming to show Howell Middle School North teacher Robert Klein in an Atlantic City hotel room during the New Jersey Educators Association conference in 2015, was released by Project Veritas, the organization founded by New Jersey native James O'Keefe.
"This second video of Project Veritas' undercover teachers union series shows how some teachers don’t practice what they preach and could potentially get away with drug abuse on campus," the organization said Thursday in a statement.
The video also claims to show an undercover encounter with a teachers' union representative talking to the activists about a teacher's admitted drug use. Project Veritas characterizes Ronald Villano's comments as "giving advice on how the teacher could avoid being caught with drugs on campus."
Even when the union is faced with a report of a teacher who may be using drugs on campus, their main priority is to protect the teacher instead of the children.
"Even when the union is faced with a report of a teacher who may be using drugs on campus, their main priority is to protect the teacher instead of the children," Project Veritas says in a statement.
The video does not claim that the teacher was dealing drugs on school property or providing drugs to students.
O'Keefe's undercover videos, which in the past have been criticized for being selectively edited and at times misleading, have targeted the state's largest teachers union before.
An NJEA spokesman on Thursday morning had not yet seen the video, but wasted to time scoffing at the source.
"Are you seriously thinking of covering an O'Keefe?" Steve Barker said. "We have no idea what he captured on video. What we know is that he has a long record of using manipulative editing and misleading editing to tell stories that are often shown to be not be factual when the end results come out."
The district's superintendent, Joseph Isola, on Thursday confirmed that Klein had been placed on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of an internal investigation. Neither Klein nor Villano could be reached for comment Thursday morning.
State pension records show Klein earns a salary of $99,600 with 18 years of experience.
Project Veritas spokesman Stephen Gordon said their crew went to the NJEA convention at the Borgata last November to see of anything "pops up."
"As you can see it didn't take long for something to pop up," Gordon told New Jersey 101.5.
Gordon said their investigators "engaged" Klein at a bar.
"He invited them up to his room," Gordon said.
The man Project Veritas identifies as Klein is seen offering drugs to two undercover project investigators after checking them for a wire.
“Let’s go. Let’s go have drinks. If you want some blow you can have a bump. You can do whatever you want,” he says after checking them for a wire.
He also says he has drugs at his home but never in his car.
“I am a teacher. I’m not driving around with f--king weed in my car. But I’ll have it delivered to my house. If you come to my home, like this, you come to my home at night, you come to my room now, I have booze, I have water, I have blow at the house…you know whatever anybody wants I have there, and I don’t mind having it there. Because it’s easy. It’s just one guy who delivers it and drops it off."
What we know is that he has a long record of using manipulative editing and misleading editing to tell stories that are often shown to be not be factual.
In the video, the teacher says that his work with drug education at the Monmouth County school has taught him how to avoid detection.
"Like, I work with the police in the school district with the drug dogs and they teach us, and they teach our kids how the drug dogs sniff out drugs. No we’re not putting drugs in my car! Blow different. You put it in your pocket, it’s nothing,” he says.
The investigators did not actually see any illegal drugs during their engagement with Klein.
Gordon said the investigators went into the hotel without a scripted plan for the project.
"Sometimes you go for the low hanging fruit if you don't have a strong plan...we struck gold even without trying."
In the same video, one of the investigators continues to pose as a reporter and approaches Villano, an NJEA representative in Klein’s district, about helping a teacher with a cocaine addiction problem.
The following is the transcript provided by Project Veritas:
Villano: “Well if he’s using during the day then he’s carrying it with him.”
PV Journalist: “Well he doesn’t bring it with him to school usually because he’s a health and physical education teacher.”
Villano: “He should know better.”
PV Journalist: “Know better to not bring it to school.”
Villano: “No, know better what the drug does to you.”
PV Journalist: “Yeah he should you’re right. But because he knows when they’re doing like searches and stuff like that so he never brings it then.”
Villano: “Well they have dog sniffing, they have drug sniffing dogs they bring for that.”
PV Journalist: “Yeah and they usually alert him when that’s happening.”
Villano: “They’ll pick up a trace and that dog will sniff that gym or the health room wherever he’s in.”
PV Journalist: “Okay so he should stop bringing it to school.”
Villano: “Yeah I would strongly urge him. But I would strongly urge him to turn himself in to get help. To get rehab.”
PV Journalist: Okay so he should keep his mouth shut. That’s what you would say.
Villano: Ah yeah. Because he’s jeopardizing his job.
PV Journalist: By talking.
Villano: Yeah and the school will turn him into the police.
PV Journalist: That’s worse case scenario.
Villano: Yeah. He’ll lose a lot more than just his job. He’ll lose his livelihood.
Gordon said there was very little editing on the video.
"I haven't gone through the raw (footage) and done a comparison but I remember seeing the video when it came in. I don't remember anything at all of any substance whatsoever that isn't in there. It's probably the full footage...I don't know anything that's missing."
Barker said O'Keefe's work is not news, but "chaos."
"The NJEA is committed to providing the best public schools for our children and the best public education for our children. We are not going to let someone like James O'Keefe distract us from that work."
O'Keefe captured NJEA members in 2010 in a video titled "Teachers Unions Gone Wild" shot during a conference at the East Brunswick Hilton. The teachers are shown cursing, discussing voter fraud and laughing about how hard it is to fire tenured teachers according to NJ Advance Media. Barker at the time called it a "fabrication."
O’Keefe, a Rutgers University graduate, first made a name for himself in 2009 by discrediting the now-defunct community organizing group known as ACORN in videos purporting to show the nonprofit’s employees giving advice to a sex worker and her pimp (who actually were O’Keefe and his associated in disguise) on evading taxes and smuggling sex workers.
The undercover videos, however, were later themselves discredited. O’Keefe had to pay $100,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by an ACORN worker in his video, who O’Keefe had portrayed as conspiring to break the law but who in reality was playing along in order to gather evidence against the pair. After the encounter, the worker called police — a fact not reported by O’Keefe at the time.
In 2010, O’Keefe was sentenced by a federal judge to three years probation and 100 hours of community service after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor charge of entering federal property under false pretenses. O’Keefe and three others were arrested after two them disguised themselves as telephone repairmen in an attempt to surreptitiously record the staff of U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu in her New Orleans office.