Friday, March 31, 2017

Former Oakland charter schools director charged with fraud - SFGate

Former Oakland charter schools director charged with fraud - SFGate:

Former Oakland charter schools director charged with fraud


Benford “Ben” Chavis, 59, who ran the American Indian Model Schools in Oakland, faces six felony counts of mail fraud and money laundering, according to the U.S. attorney’s office in San Francisco.

Chavis allegedly applied for and received more than $1 million in federal grant funding from 2006 to 2012 that he said would be used for the charter schools. The money was instead used for lease payments on properties Chavis owned, according to a grand jury indictment.
Chavis faces up to 20 years in prison for each of the three counts of mail fraud and 10 years for each count of money laundering, federal officials said. The Lumberton, N.C., resident was released on personal recognizance bond and ordered to appear in federal court in Oakland by April 14.
Chavis had been under investigation since at least 2013, when FBI and Internal Revenue Service agents raided his Oakland home and the three schools, seizing computers, documents and other records.
The Oakland school board voted earlier that year to close the charter schools over concerns of financial impropriety. A 2012 California audit uncovered $3.8 million in allegedly improper payments to Chavis and his wife through real estate deals they struck when they operated the charter schools.
The schools challenged the decision in court and staved off closure. They are still open, under new leadership.
Chavis maintained his innocence after the federal raid and defended the charter schools.
“If you didn’t do anything, why be upset?” he said at the time. “If I stole money, I need to be put in jail, but the schools need to stay open.” Chavis could not be reached for comment Thursday.
The announcement of his arrest surprised local school leaders.
“It affirms for me that the decision we made to revoke the charter was absolutely the right decision,” said school board member Jody London.
Chavis was a controversial figure at the American Indian charter schools, known for using foul language, enforcing rigid rules and meting out harsh discipline.
Students were often publicly humiliated and forced to attend Saturday school and detention. Chavis drew both national scorn and praise for his tactics. The schools, which at the time enrolled predominantly Asian American students, had among the Former Oakland charter schools director charged with fraud - SFGate:

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