Investigators allege founders of Epic Charter School embezzled millions

Ponca City Now - July 17, 2019 1:22 pm

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) – Investigators allege the founders of Oklahoma’s largest virtual charter school embezzled millions of dollars in state funds through an illegal scheme involving the use of “ghost students” to inflate enrollment numbers.

The allegations against Epic Charter Schools were outlined in an affidavit for a search warrant of an Epic teacher’s Oklahoma City home.

Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation agent Tommy Johnson wrote in the affidavit that the school’s founders, David Chaney and Ben Harris, split illegal profits of more than $10 million between 2013 and 2018.

Johnson said the men recruited home-school and private-school students to enroll in Epic, sometimes without the knowledge of the students’ parents.

The investigation is ongoing, and formal charges haven’t been filed.

An Epic spokeswoman says school officials are “supremely confident” they operated legally.

Shelly Hickman, assistant superintendent of communications for Epic, released the following statement:

“We are audited by the State Department of Education and state-approved auditors each school year and are supremely confident that we operate our public school system within the boundaries of state and federal law. Since our inception in 2011, we have time after time proven ourselves innocent of all allegations. We will again.

“This latest attack comes at a time when our growth makes status-quo education lobbying groups uncomfortable. We are considering legal action to combat what we believe is a coordinated effort to damage our school, our co-founders and our staff.”

Oklahoma State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister released the following statement:

“These allegations are extremely serious and disturbing. The Oklahoma State Department of Education stands ready to work with any criminal investigation to determine if public education and countless Oklahoma taxpayers have been defrauded of millions of dollars. In the meantime, it is important to let the legal system do its work. For the sake of Oklahoma students and families all across the state, we must ensure accountability of all education funding. We understand that today’s events may create confusion and stress for many students and families. They have our support.”

 

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