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Fraud alleged at acclaimed Oakland charter schools that has some of state’s highest scores

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POSTED June 14, 2012 10:19 p.m.

OAKLAND  (AP) — A nationally recognized charter school organization in California could face a criminal investigation after a state audit found evidence of financial fraud, conflicts of interest and other illegal activities.

The report released Wednesday detailed allegations of unscrupulous activity at Oakland-based American Indian Model Schools, which operates three public schools whose standardized test scores are among the state's highest.

The audit was conducted by state Fiscal Crisis & Management Assistance Team at the request of Alameda County Superintendent Sheila Jordan. She said she would forward the report to the Alameda County District Attorney's office.

Jordan urged Oakland Unified School District officials to consider proceedings to revoke the charters needed to operate the three American Indian schools.

"The lack of oversight by the AIMS board and the unethical practices by its founder are unacceptable and an abuse of the public trust," Jordan wrote in a letter to Oakland Unified Superintendent Tony Smith.

American Indian founder Ben Chavis did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday. Other staff members said they were not authorized to comment.

The final report followed a preliminary report that found evidence of possible fraud by Chavis, his wife Marsh Amador and their businesses, which provide services to the three schools.

Despite that preliminary report's findings, the Oakland school board in April voted 4-3 to keep open American Indian Public Charter School II after backers argued that closing it would hurt students at a school with near-perfect test scores.

The final report detailed $3.7 million in questionable payments to businesses owned by Chavis and his wife, including money for rent, storage fees, construction projects and the administration of summer school programs.

The report also documents more than $25,000 in unauthorized credit-card purchases, serious lapses in board oversight as well as violations of conflict of interest laws, open meetings laws and federal grant requirements.


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