Accountability Charter Schools Education Reform Fraud Los Angeles

How Bad Must a Charter Be to Lose Its Charter?

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I recently posted about a charter school in Los Angeles that lost its charter after an audit revealed serious financial irregularities. The charter operator was fined $16,000 although millions of dollars may have been misappropriated.

 

The Los Angeles Times story noted:

 

“Some of the allegations bordered on the bizarre.

 

“Auditors questioned, for example, the use of school funds to pay a $566,803 settlement to a former teacher who sued the organization for wrongful termination after she was directed by Okonkwo to travel with her to Nigeria to marry Okonkwo’s brother-in-law for the purpose of making him a United States citizen.”

 

Apparently, the owner of the charter was not required to repay to the school the $566,803 used to pay the teacher for wrongful termination.

 

The story is even more bizarre:

 

A reader posted the following summary of the investigation. Why wasn’t the charter owner prosecuted for immigration fraud? Why did the California Charter School Association support the renewal of this charter? Many questions, no answers.

 

********************************
Our reader wrote:

 

 

The L.A. County BOE hired a team to do an “extraordinary audit” of the charter in question, “Wisdom Academy of Young Scholars”.

 

It’s quite a read:

 

http://fcmat.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/4/2014/03/LACOEWAYSAB139finalreport3-20-14.pdf

 

Among its many mind-blowing findings is the one pertaining to the immigration fraud.

 

in what might be the wildest story of extortion I’ve ever heard of in a school setting, the charter operator, Mr. Godfrey Okonkwo, engages in a unique way of helping his brother-in-law, a Nigerian citizen, obtain his U.S. citizenship;

 

This charter honcho, Mr Godfrey Okonkwo, gives an ultimatum to one of the non-tenured teachers working at the charter school:

 

… as a condition of continued employment … as in “Do this or else your fired.”

 

— this teacher must fly to Nigeria, marry the brother-in-law of the charter honcho, Mr Godfrey Okonkwo, then fly back to California, then live in a sham marriage long enough to satisfy immigration officials.

 

Halfway through, though, the teacher backs out of the deal. Incredibly, she went as far as to fly to Nigeria with her charter school boss, Mr Godfrey Okonkwo, actually marry Mr. Okonkwo’s brother-in-law, and then the three of them flew back to Los Angeles together.

 

However, it is at this point the teacher gets cold feet, and tells her boss, Mr. Okonkwo, that she’s backing out of such an unsavory and highly illegal proposition. The prospect of having to fill out detailed Homeland Security documents — with severe jail penalties and huge fines for those who are ever caught providing false information on this form — leads to this decision.

 

(To prove the charter honcho’s involvement, the audit shows that the Repuplic of Nigeria marriage certificate has the Mr. Okonkwo’s name and signature, as the “witness” to the marriage.)

 

As promised, Mr. Okonkwo fires the non-tenured teacher fore refusing.

 

In response, the teacher files a wrongful termination lawsuit against both Mr. Okonkwo, the “Wisdom Academy of Young Scholars, and the Merle Williamson Foundation (MWF), a non-profit 501(c)(3) under which WAYS operates. A jury later found in favor of the teacher plaintiff, and against Mr. Okonkwo, WAYS, and MWF. In a subsequent judgment, this teacher was awarded of $566,803. Mr. Okonkwo eventually pays the teacher this $566,803 in school funds that were supposed to go the classroom.

 

In defending himself in the lawsuit, Mr. Okonkwo defiantly claims that all of this happened off-campus during a holiday break from school, and thus, outside of the school’s scope of employment. “Therefore, butt out. This is none of the L.A. County BOE’s (the charter authorizer’s business.), or anyone else’s business. It’s a private matter between the bride, the groom/my brother-in-law, and myself.”

 

The problem with this line of defense, however, is that Mr. Okonkwo settled the wrongful termination lawsuit with the teacher for $566,803, but did not use his own private funds to do so. Mr. Okonkwo cut a check out of the charter school’s bank account, with the charter school “Wisdom Academy of Young Scholars”, as the payer on the check.

 

This also leads to Mr. Okonkwo being shown up to be a liar in another area. Mr. Okonkwo claims that she took no days off from school. However, multiple teachers — those interviewed regardin the marriage / immigration fraud confirmed that Mr. Okonkwo took many school days off, and traveled to Nigeria on those days.

 

Here’s the relevant passage:

 

(page 22 on the bottom footer ,

 

OR

 

page 30 of the PDF page counter)

—————————————–

“Professional Liability for Founder/Former Executive Director

 

“Documents from a lawsuit settled against the Merle Williamson Foundation (MWF) for wrongful termination of a former teacher at WAYS against the school show that the founder/former executive director traveled to Omtsha, Nigeria and directed one of the school’s teachers to go with her to marry her sister’s husband (brother-in-law) for purposes of making the brother-in-law a United States citizen.

 

“Although the teacher married the brother-in-law, she ultimately refused to complete the Department of Homeland Security form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, and brought suit against MWF. On December 4, 2012, a jury found in favor of the teacher plaintiff and subsequent judgment was awarded of $566,803.

 

“The contract dated July 1, 2008 through June 30, 2011 clearly states that the executive director shall be held harmless and be indemnified ‘from any and all demands, claims, suits, and legal proceedings brought against the Executive Director in her official capacity as agent and employee of the MWF, provided the incident arose while the Executive Director was acting within the scope of employment.” (emphasis added)

 

“Clearly this action by the ‘Executive Director’ was not within the scope of employment, was conducted during winter break in Nigeria, and yet the settlement was paid by WAYS charter school.

 

“The Certificate of Marriage document from Federal Republic of Nigeria shows the founder/former executive director’s signature as witness to the marriage between the teacher and Joseph Njor Enwezor (the founder/former executive director’s brother-in-law) on January 4, 2010.

 

“According to staff at LACOE who conducted interviews, these interviews with former teachers and board members indicate many trips to Nigeria to visit a personal residence in that country by the founder/former executive director, yet she asserts that she took ‘zero’ days off during the last five years.”
———————————————————

This is just the tip of the iceberg of the financial corruption that these creep engaged in. Read the whole thing. Again, it’s at:

 

http://fcmat.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/4/2014/03/LACOEWAYSAB139finalreport3-20-14.pdf

 

All of this begs the questions:

 

“How egregious must a charter school’s transgressions — both legal and ethical — be in order to close that school?

 

“How bad must if be for the California Charter School Association to denounce these practices, and withdraw its support for the charter authorization by either a county BOE, or the state BOE?

 

“How bad must it be order to trigger a criminal prosecution?”

 

Mind you, immigration fraud involving sham marriages is felony.

 

Why is THAT not being prosecuted?

 

The very fact that, after all this corruption was uncovered, that this charter operator even thought that she had a chance at authorizing by the State Board of Ed. shows how entitled the charter industry players think they are.

 

Indeed, the Callifornia Charter School Association supported their appeals to the L.A. County BOE and State BOE.

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