TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) – A charter school management company which has operated schools statewide was indicted this week by a Florida Panhandle grand jury, accused of fraudulently billing a charter school for supplies, equipment and services.
The charges of grand theft, money laundering and aggravated white collar crime were announced Thursday by State Attorney Bill Eddins against the management company, Newpoint Education Partners, as well as three other vendors.
No individuals have been charged so far, but the case could have ripple effects across the state.
The Tampa Bay Times (http://bit.ly/1q3zNBq ) reports that the company indicted in Escambia County had also been criticized for poor financial management of four schools in Pinellas County. Other media reports point out the same company – which was acquired by a non-profit company a few weeks ago – has been involved in schools in Broward and Bay counties.
Assistant State Attorney Russell Edgar said the investigation is continuing, and prosecutors have sought information from other school districts where the companies were doing business.
“This has not ended,” Edgar said Friday.
Edgar said that the investigation into Newpoint and the three vendors was started last year after a school employee alerted Escambia school district officials.
Charter schools, which are public schools run by private groups, have grown in popularity since they were authorized in the ’90s. There are currently more than 650 charter schools statewide, teaching more than 250,000 students. These schools receive money from school districts to pay for day-to-day expenses such as salaries.
Newpoint and the three vendors are accused of improperly taking state grant funds used to help startup charters and then laundering the proceeds through multiple bank accounts. The indictment does not include details on exactly how the alleged activity took place.
David McGee, a Pensacola attorney representing Newpoint Education Partners, says the company would plead not guilty to the charges at a scheduled court appearance in late May. He added that the company is confused about the specifics that led to the indictments.
“We really don’t know what we’ve been charged with,” McGee said.
The schools operated by Newpoint closed last year. Before they closed, two schools received more than $253,000 from a fund set up by the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature to help with capital purchases. The Associated Press reported last December that charter schools in 30 districts have wound up closing after receiving as much as $70 million combined in such funding,
During this year’s legislative session some legislators, including GOP state Sen. Don Gaetz, said they wanted to tighten up which charter schools were eligible for state money. But legislators instead pass a bill that will make it easier for some charter school operators to obtain state money. In the process, they also changed the funding formula so additional money will go to charter schools that serve students from low-income families and those with disabilities.