Charter School Founders Facing Criminal Charges

By Erika Hanson | Published

Epic Charter Schools

More and more families are opting for charter schools over public ones. Much of the reason for this is because charter schools operate autonomously from many of the regulations that have made parents grow more opposed to public education. However, this ruling often acts as a double-edged sword, as fewer regulations also have proven that this means for-profit schools can mishandle and abuse funds. It’s happened in the past, and it’s happening again, as Epic Charter Schools founders have now been arrested for diverting millions of taxpayer dollars in a massive criminal scheme.

The Associated Press reported that three men involved in founding Epic Charter Schools, a consort of blended online and personal instruction schools throughout Oklahoma, were arrested Thursday, June 23rd as they face felony criminal charges. Co-founders Ben Harris and David Chaney, along with the network’s former CFO, Josh Brock, are accused of embezzling millions of taxpayer dollars sent to the schools by diverting management fees. To pull this extensive crime off, the school officials exaggerated enrollment numbers to obtain more funding from the state. 

Epic Charter Schools was founded by Harris and Chaney in 2011. According to data from The Oklahoman, the school is host to nearly 60,000 students in the state, who all attend it freely thanks to public funding. When first launched, the school boasted itself as a one-of-a-kind offering those seeking online learning the opportunity to do so. Audits leading up to this point opened an investigation into possible mishandling of state funds dating all the way back to nearly a decade ago, in 2013.

The investigation questioned the validity of how many students were actually enrolled at Epic Charter Schools. Within a few years, enrollment data showed student rates were skyrocketing. By 2017, more than 13,200 students were registered. This was peculiar and alarming to some department of education officials, considering that number was higher than the entire state’s enrollment in any other charter school. 

By 2019, things looked even more suspicious at Epic Charter Schools. A state investigation found enough proof to claim the school was embezzling state funds by submitting state data enrolling “ghost students” within the network. It was believed they were racketeering the money through the founders’ for-profit business, Epic Youth Services. Even more, some of those misappropriated funds were said to pay off politicians in a lobbying effort to silence state agencies and keep the scheme running. 

Given the state of affairs surrounding charter schools and the federal government, this Epic Charter Schools case serves as a key point in the feds’ recent attempt to further restrict funding to charter schools. Earlier this year, the Biden administration announced new regulations they are working to pass that would place more limitations and restrictions on charter schools. Those against this measure say it is a blatant attack on charter schools. However, Biden and the DOE have continuously defended the need for this, saying that charter schools have been found to be spending taxpayer dollars unnecessarily at an increasing rate. 

All three men alleged to be involved in the Epic Charter Schools scheme are facing multiple charges which include racketeering, embezzlement, obtaining money by false pretense, conspiracy to commit a felony, violation of the Computer Crimes Act, submitting false documents to the state, and unlawful proceeds. Each of their bonds was set at $250,000. For now, the school network remains open and has cut its ties with those involved in this grand fraudulent scheme.