SEATTLE (AP) _ Everyone at Sumner Junior High School thought J. Gregory Ware had the makings of an outstanding young teacher. He was bright, charming and had impeccable academic credentials.
″The principal was delighted to have him on the staff because he almost seemed to be too good,″ said Assistant Superintendent Bill Nolan.
Ware vanished Sept. 3 - two days into the school year - leaving behind a hot 1992 Cadillac, a stack of skillfully forged documents, and a note saying he was resigning immediately ″due to TRAGIC extenuating circumstances.″
The note asked that his pay be donated to a church in Norcross, Ga., and was signed ″Sorrowfully yours.″
Ware was arrested by U.S. Secret Service agents Saturday at an apartment where authorities said he had lived for the last two weeks under the alias Gregory Vanderbilt.
He had answered a roommate-wanted advertisement, and the roommate called authorities after learning his real identity Saturday from a story in The Seattle Times, said Secret Service Patrick F. Sullivan.
″I guess he slept late, because the roommate went out to get the newspaper and never came back,″ Sullivan said.
Ware, who turned 24 the week after he disappeared, left a lot of people at Sumner Junior High School feeling violated, Nolan said. Sumner is a blue- collar town of 6,000 located 40 miles south of Seattle.
″The kids are sort of very surprised and some of them have said things like, ’You know, I’m really mad at Mr. Ware because I really liked him and he let us down,‴ Nolan said.
″The teachers are kind of feeling like we’ve been had,″ he said.
The Secret Service entered the case because of the possibility of federal counterfeiting charges.
Sullivan said investigators who searched the apartment found phony seals from the state of Georgia, as well as Emory and Georgia State universities.
They also found three stolen gold coins, blank counterfeit transcripts and correspondence showing Ware had sought teaching jobs under the name Vanderbilt. A 1992 Toyota automobile with stolen license plates was found near the apartment.
Ware, who was jailed, could face both state and federal charges, Sullivan said.
Ware’s application to Sumner arrived by mail in December 1991. When a job opened up last spring, the district invited him to fly out for an interview.
Ware, who listed a post office box in Atlanta and an address in Lilburn, Ga., was invited back for a teaching demonstration in a classroom setting.
After more interviews and reference checks, he was hired as a seventh-grade English teacher at $27,600 a year and moved to Washington over the summer.
″I thought we had a blue-chipper,″ said Terry Beckstead, Sumner Junior High principal.
Ware’s credentials included a valid Washington state teaching certificate and glowing references from a retired teacher and a college professor in Georgia. The Sumner district also received college transcripts, stamped and embossed with Georgia State University seals, showing he had earned a bachelor’s in education and a master’s degree in English education.
″Everything checked,″ Nolan said. ″He was the embodiment of a good, wholesome, young, professional teacher.″
Ware’s scam started to unravel Aug. 28, when he arrived at a print shop in the Seattle suburb of Tukwila to pick up 10 blank Georgia vehicle registration forms he had ordered. A suspicious shop employee called police, who confronted Ware.
They impounded Ware’s Cadillac, which turned out to be stolen from Georgia. Ware had told colleagues he’d won it in a lottery.
Ware was arrested on suspicion of possession of a stolen vehicle and forgery after police found more counterfeit registration and insurance documents in the car.
But when Tukwila police Detective Paul Rubenstein learned Ware had a local address and a teaching job, he let him go. Rubenstein figured Ware could be picked up later.
Instead, Ware cleared out his apartment and left a set of keys outside the principal’s office along with his resignation note.
Rubenstein said an investigation revealed the master’s degree was a fake. Although Ware does have a bachelor’s degree from Georgia State, he may have faked when he earned it, Rubenstein said.
The letters of reference are apparently real, but Ware may have used a phony Georgia teaching certificate to get his Washington state certificate, Rubenstein said.
Ware had asked the university not to release any information about his educational record, university spokeswoman Sandra Carnet said.
Georgia State University Police Chief James Dearing said Gwinnett County, Ga., authorities arrested Ware in 1991 on a forgery charge involving university seals ordered from a print shop. But the case was never prosecuted, in part because of jurisdictional questions, Dearing said.
″The forgeries were good. They were passable, very passable,″ said Patrick Sullivan, assistant special agent in charge of the Secret Service office in Seattle. ″Based on what I see, I feel he’s done this before.″