Education Reform

Ohio: Feds Investigating Campaign Contributions to ECOT

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The FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice have subpoenaed the campaign contributions made to the notorious Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, which operated for 20 years with minimal accountability and many political friends. The virtual charter raked in about $1 billion before it closed.

From the Columbus Dispatch:

The FBI and U.S. Department of Justice subpoenaed nearly 20 years of campaign contribution records for the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow — an indication that the now-closed online charter school and its key players have come under federal criminal investigation.

The USA TODAY Network Ohio Bureau obtained the grand jury subpoena in response to a public records request submitted to Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose. The Secretary of State received the subpoena because it is the custodian of campaign finance records.

The subpoena, sent Feb. 4, 2019, seeks all campaign contribution records since 2000 for ECOT, Altair Learning Management, IQ Innovations, WL Innovations, William and Jessica Lager, Richard James Harris, Melissa Vasil and Teresa Berry…

ECOT-related campaign contributions became politically toxic. Lager had been a top contributor for Republican candidates and GOP organizations, giving about $2.1 million since 2000.

In August 2017, the Ohio Republican Party returned $76,000 in campaign donations to Lager and Vasil. That refund came after former Ohio House speaker Larry Householder returned $70,000 to the Summit County Republican Party — the same amount the county party got two weeks earlier from the state GOP. Lager and Vasil each wrote $38,000 checks to the Ohio Republican Party’s state candidate fund June 26, 2017....

Bill Lager founded ECOT in 2000 and used for-profit companies he created to manage and provide IT services to the charter school.

In 2016, the Ohio Department of Education determined that ECOT had been overstating the number of students it served and the state demanded repayment of $80 million. That triggered a financial death spiral for the school, which abruptly shut its virtual doors in January 2018.

Then-state Auditor Dave Yost issued a blistering report on the operation in May 2018 and referred the audit to county and federal prosecutors for possible investigation.

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