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A St. Andrew’s School “power struggle” is spilling into the courtroom

The former vice chairman of St. Andrew’s School is suing the school’s chairwoman, the latest fallout from the school’s tumultuous breakup with its former headmaster.

The private K-12 school has been riveted by controversy since the sudden departure in April of headmaster Peter Benedict Jr. and the launching of a sex abuse probe by the school’s board of trustees.

Now William Caragol, who resigned as the school’s vice chairman in April, says in the suit that the chairwoman, Mary Jo Finocchiaro, defamed him by accusing him of colluding with Benedict to embezzle school money.

Caragol denies the accusation, and Finocchiaro denies making it.

The lawsuit, filed this month, is an unusually public display of what until now has been a mostly closed-door battle between supporters of Benedict and those who felt, for reasons that have not been disclosed, that he had to go.

Caragol, a school parent who served on the board for five years, alleges in the lawsuit that he resigned in April, weeks after the trustees began meeting to discuss “certain issues that had arisen concerning the school’s headmaster.”

During those discussions, Caragol’s position was “at odds” with those of other trustees, and that his position “angered” Finocchiaro, the lawsuit states.

On April 22, the school announced that Benedict and the board had “mutually agreed to end his employment.”

Trustees later attributed his departure to “differences in philosophy, especially in areas of risk management and safety.”

Around the same time, Caragol said, he was accused by a trustee and a school attorney of disclosing information about the meetings to outsiders in violation of confidentiality rules, an allegation he denies.

Angered by the accusation, he resigned on April 23.

Days later, the lawsuit alleges, Finocchiaro told a school employee that Caragol was forced to resign because he and Benedict had stolen $12 million from the school and diverted it to a business in Mexico. Finocchiaro is an executive with LXR Luxury Resorts and Hotels, which operates the Boca Raton Resort.

The lawsuit denies that Caragol and Benedict had any business dealings and says there are no allegations that any of the school’s money is missing. A spokesman for the school declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Caragol’s attorney, William Cornwell, said that the resignation was the ugly fallout of a “power struggle” for control of the school, and that Caragol now is working to “maintain his name and his good standing in the community.”

“He was basically, in his view, falsely accused of violating rules governing board members,” Cornwell said.

An attorney for Finocchiaro denied that she ever made the statements the suit attributes to her and said that “we will address these allegations in court.”

“Our response is that Ms. Finocchiaro never said the things alleged in the lawsuit,” attorney Bruce Reinhart said.

The lawsuit comes after months of tumult at the upscale Episcopal school, where annual tuition starts at nearly $25,000.

In mid-May, less than a month after Benedict’s departure, St. Andrew’s announced that it had retained the Holland & Knight law firm to “investigate any reports of sexual abuse of Saint Andrew’s students.”

The school originally indicated that the probe was inspired by an article in the Boston Globe about sex abuse at private schools in New England.

But school leaders later admitted in a statement that one of its employees had “breached student boundary policies.”

St. Andrew’s said, though, that it was unaware of any students who had been sexually abused.

The school said that Benedict had not been alleged to have participated in any sex abuse or illegal activity.

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