Atlanta police: More than half a million missing from Atlanta Latin Academy

Georgia’s been spared many of the charter school scandals occurring in other states, likely because the approval process here moved at a slower speed. (Proponents would argue the process moved at a glacial pace.)

However, the charter movement is now well established in Georgia. The increased number of charters — which operate with great autonomy over how dollars are spent  — could mean more of the financial mismanagement that’s plagued schools in Florida and Ohio.

An AJC story this week reveals troubling allegations about the much heralded Atlanta Latin Academy and its charismatic and well-regarded founder Chris Clemons.

Police have called Clemons a suspect in the disappearance of $600,000 from the school.

That is likely to shock people who knew him. The Georgia Charter Schools Association describes Clemons as “visionary” on its website.

A 2007 profile of him by a MIT publication — Clemons holds a MBA from the prestigious school —  quotes a former colleague as saying, “He’s brilliant. I don’t know anyone who can keep up with his mind…If he believes in something, watch out. The sky is the limit for him.”

Chris Clemons while he was still with the Latin Academy. (Facebook photo)

Chris Clemons while he was still with the Latin Academy. (Facebook photo)

In a 2012 column for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, Clemons chronicled the road to opening Latin Academy, writing somewhat prophetically: “Nothing along that journey was simple or came easy—for instance, our start-up year coincided with a tension-filled and controversial redistricting process within APS that placed charters (particularly new ones) under an increased level of public scrutiny.”

Now, it seems there may not have been enough public scrutiny.

AJC education writer Molly Bloom wrote the piece:

Atlanta police are investigating the alleged theft of more than half a million dollars from a charter school, according to a police report.

More than $600,000 was taken from Atlanta Latin Academy bank and credit card accounts through ATM withdrawals to pay for dinners, nonwork-related travel, bonuses to employees and “personal entertainment at local nightclubs, ” according to the report.

School founder Chris Clemons and the school‘s operations director were the only staff members with access to both accounts, school board chairman Kaseem Ladipo said.

The discovery that the money was missing came this summer soon after Clemons and the operations director left the school to work for an Atlanta foundation, founded by Clemons, that would help start similar charter schools, Ladipo said. The school principal left around the same time, he said.

The police report names only Clemons as a suspect. Clemons did not respond to phone messages from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Tuesday.

After Clemons’ departure, board members discovered unpaid bills and financial statements showing what appeared to be nonschool-related spending and contacted the police and the Atlanta school district, Ladipo said.

Atlanta Public Schools authorized Atlanta Latin Academy, but as a charter school it operates independently from the system and has its own governing board.

Ladipo said it appears inaccurate financial statements were presented to the board. “Since the school was still functioning, classes were still happening and the lights were still on … we didn’t think that there were any issues with our finances, ” he said.

The school’s latest independent audit showed no financial management problems, Atlanta schools spokeswoman Jill Strickland said.

The Latin Academy board hired an external chief financial officer, established new financial safeguards and started requesting more frequent financial updates from new school leaders, Ladipo said. “What we’ve learned is that we have to put even more systems in place, ” he said.

 

Reader Comments 0

67 comments
CSpinks
CSpinks

The higher priority of GaPubEd: Educating our kids or employing relatives, friends and hangers-on in well-paid jobs?

SV23
SV23

Sad news, if true. But what price tag do you put on children cheated out of an education in dysfunctional zip code schools? You know, the failing traditional public schools seldom dealt with frankly or honestly by Get Schooled: schools not all parents can afford to simply move away from.

Solutions come when parents are empowered to vote with their feet. Legislators: Give all parents tuition vouchers!

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

@SV23 


I don't like my local state parks.


Can I have a voucher join a country club? 


Or maybe just a tax credit to donate it to the country club scholarship company of my choice(wink, wink).

CSpinks
CSpinks

Who conducted the school's latest audit? We need the name of the person or firm. Whoever performed the latest audit on this school should "enjoy" some of the light and heat which should accompany any investigation.


P.S. When will We, the People, demand that competent, disinterested, external auditors conduct financial and efficacy evaluations of publicly funded entities? We need to remember that "internal audit" and "local audit" are oxymorons put forth by fraudsters who think that the rest of us are morons.

Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

@CSpinks

"The school’s latest independent audit showed no financial management problems..."

My guess is that the school charter required a financial audit of the books and records by an "external auditor" as you suggested.  The "competency" is debatable given the circumstances.

If you know how auditors test, you can easily deceive them.  One of the more notorious fraud cases involve a chain of electronic retail stores.  The auditors were checking physical inventory valuation, but never opened a box.  Management filled storerooms with empty boxes.  The auditor would go up, check the label on a box, count the number of boxes on the pallet, and verify the number of the components in question.  Management then took the "audited" financial statements to the bank and took out huge loans, which were backed by "assets" that were nothing more than empty boxes.  The inevitable bankruptcy was spectacular.

FYI, an "internal audit" is a completely different audit.  An Internal Auditor cannot sign off on the financial statements of an organization.  An internal audit department typically works at the discretion of the Audit Committee of the Board of Directors of an organization.

Finally, according to the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, the #1 fraud detection tool - a hotline.

bu2
bu2

@Lee_CPA2 @CSpinks


In this case, they apparently spent money on trips and bonuses.  The leaders simply had to document these things as legitimate and it would not be picked up.  If they had a separate account with donations, they simply could never have told the auditors about it.  That would be something a board should know about and pick up on when they look at the audit and any internal financials that might include different information.


And we don't know how much of this related to the audited period and how much was more recent.  The last completed audit most likely took place in the fall of 2014 as the school would probably have a June 30 year end.


If they had an account that the auditors knew about and they didn't review the reconciliations, that would be the auditors fault, but its hard to conceive any auditor skipping that step.


As Lee mentioned earlier, another way the auditors could have failed would be if they were inexperienced in schools and didn't understand the way the state funded the school.  The staff could have mislead them on what had not yet been collected from the state, so the school would look more financially sound than it was.


But there's just not enough information to understand exactly how the board was mislead.


Astropig
Astropig

@Lee_CPA2 @CSpinks


" One of the more notorious fraud cases involve a chain of electronic retail stores.  The auditors were checking physical inventory valuation, but never opened a box. "


Crazy Eddie?

sneakpeakintoeducation
sneakpeakintoeducation

In my opinion there is the capacity to commit fraud at a more rampant rate in charter schools because of the lack of accountability that exists. A recent report has found  there is $1.4 billion of fraud, waste and corruption within the charter school industry. Not to mention the fact that the non-profits are merely a shell for the for-profit management company that provides their services/facilities etc... while charging the tax payer but not being accountable for how the money is spent or how much the CEO's take in earning. 


http://populardemocracy.org/sites/default/files/Charter-Schools-National-Report_rev2.pdf



Here is another report on the failure of the charter industry in south Florida and discusses charter schools that took millions of tax payer money but shut the doors only a few months later. Don't think it can't happen here.


http://interactive.sun-sentinel.com/charter-schools-unsupervised/investigation.html


Astropig
Astropig

@sneakpeakintoeducation 

In my opinion,the traditional status quo system is ten times as corrupt and you can add a LOT more zeroes to the sum of their fraud.

sneakpeakintoeducation
sneakpeakintoeducation

@as tropic

I am not saying that the public schools are corruption free but there are more safeguards and accountability in the system to catch these shenanigans earlier. Also, since the for-profit management companies refuse to be accountable to the public it is impossible to fathom the true depths of corruption and waste at that level. One last point, public schools serves approximately 94%of the population so adding a couple of zeros still wouldn't come close to the opportunists in the charter school market. Again, I am not condoning fraud or w as text in public schools but the fact that the charter school model is setup to provide less accountability to the public is worrying and rife with opportunity for easy pickings. Our tax bade cannot afford two separate systems, especially one that is more prone to fraud, waste and opportunist wanting to make a quick buck or two. P.S. in case I wasn't explicit enough I was talking about chartrers in the last sentence.

bu2
bu2

@sneakpeakintoeducation

Like in Chicago or in DeKalb County or APS?


Charter schools don't have the ability to raise their tax revenues.  They don't have the volume of business to hide fraud.  And so they don't have connected business owners providing them political cover like they did in APS.

sneakpeakintoeducation
sneakpeakintoeducation

Sorry, astropig, not as tropic. Dang auto correct. Would you consider a name change? As tropic sounds more mysterious than your porcine nomicur.

bu2
bu2

REALLY misleading headline.  I was wondering how such a school would have $600,000 in cash.


There is not ANY money missing from reading this article.


The issue is money being spent on personal items or unapproved items.  If its spent on personal items and not reimbursed, its still theft, but its not like the money has vanished.  They know what happened to it.  If it is unauthorized, it is improper, but not necessarily theft (employee bonuses are not necessarily theft).  That's much like the gifts to charity by DeKalb commissioners-it may be illegal and it is clearly poor stewardship, but its not theft.

MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

@bu2 It is theft, according to the police report. Not sure of your logic. If someone wrote checks on your account to pay for a car, it is theft. Doesn't matter that you know where the money went. If it was taken from your account, it is missing from your account. This money is missing from the school's accounts. 

These are tax dollars -- whether taken from a wallet, a safe or a checking account, the money is still gone. As for the DeKalb commissioners, they contend they believed they were legally allowed to donate money to those charities. They did not hide the donations or disguise them.

This is not the same issue. This money was taken and then records allegedly falsified to conceal the theft. This is not the case of someone going on a business trip and spending $20 of company money on a movie and latte.


bu2
bu2

@MaureenDowney @bu2

No, the police report says they are investigating alleged theft-alleged by the board members.


"Missing" is really misleading.  This money almost certainly has been spent over a period of time.  This school doesn't even have 200 students.  600k would be between 1/3 and 2/3 of an entire year's funding.


And it is exactly the same issue as Sutton, Watson and May.  They spent money on personal items, friends and acquiaintances.  This person apparently spent money on personal items.


Spending money on employee bonuses could well be exactly the type of thing Rader and Gannon did.  Well intentioned, but not authorized or legal.  Of course, it could also be theft if it was benefitting a limited group, but we don't know from what has been disclosed so far.

Astropig
Astropig

@bu2 

One thing that doesn't add up to me is why a person with an MBA from MIT and a good reputation in his field would toss all of that away for a measly $600K? I mean,to people with his background,that kind of money is not worth throwing your life and career away for.He's technically savvy-he has to know that every transaction is recorded and instantly obtainable (and visible) if there's ever any questions. Doesn't make sense unless there's a large element of the story missing here.

CSpinks
CSpinks

@bu2 When one converts another's money to one's use without permission, one commits theft by conversion.

CSpinks
CSpinks

@Astropig @bu2 "They're not going to check" is a popular, post-modern mantra the allegiance to which has earned many folks prison time.

bu2
bu2

@CSpinks @Astropig @bu2

People can justify it.  Its why good checks and balances are required.  Some of the least likely people will steal if given the opportunity.


There's also an arrogance of leadership.  Enron and Andy Fastow is an example.  He was making massive amounts of money from Enron but stole more.

bu2
bu2

@class80olddog @CSpinks @bu2

I guess Maureen and CSpinks don't understand the difference between missing and misused.


600k missing is inflammatory and hard to understand.  Misused may still be theft-see the DeKalb commissioners.

anothercomment
anothercomment

I suspect he was an EEO admission to MIT. I worked in an office once with an MIT grad like this and even the black GT grad was the most vocal critic of the worthless MIT grad. Constantly, everyone in the office said he the MIT grad was the stupidest person in the office. The " Bobby Gindal " down to the white Catholic wife and conversion.

BearCasey
BearCasey

@Astropig @bu2  I thought the same thing.  Seems like an MBA from MIT would almost be a license to print money.  I'm guessing that he has an impatient girlfriend with expensive tastes.

CSpinks
CSpinks

Will the combination of "politics," "lust for power," "love of money," and "citizen indifference" prove fatal to the efficacy of that well-intentioned governmental enterprise entitled "American Public Schooling?"


Has such a combination already proved fatal?

class80olddog
class80olddog

A lot of the posters on here don't care about specifics of charter schools - they just don't want charter schools, PERIOD.  Look at MaryElizabethSings - NO FOR-PROFIT SCHOOLS (never mind that charters are not-for-profit institutions).  If there are problems with the way charters are overseen, then FIX THE PROBLEM, don't just throw the whole system away. 

newsphile
newsphile

@class80olddog Some people are also biased against local school districts.  The same " FIX THE PROBLEM" could be applied to our local districts as well, and for far less money.  A hard, honest look at both options is required.  I can assure you that we are only as good as our public school systems.  In some communities, that's grand while in other communities, it's sad. 

I'm opposed to the for-profit management companies of charter schools.  We have witnessed funds going out of state to corporate while abolishing media center, not adding high school grades as promised and not informing parents of such decisions, and more taxpayer dollars spent per pupil than in the local school district - with lesser outcomes. 

Be careful what you wish for in the current political climate of mega bucks going to favored supporters with little-to-no accountability.  Both political parties are to blame for the greed and lack of ethics, putting themselves and their cronies ahead of students. 

class80olddog
class80olddog

@newsphile @class80olddog  "The same " FIX THE PROBLEM" could be applied to our local districts as well"

I have argued for this for YEARS!  The BEST way to take the air out of the charter movement is to make traditional schools so good that no one would want to leave.  But that takes a realistic assessment of what the REAL issues are and I have not seen that happen.  MY opinion is that discipline, attendance and social promotion (along with parental and student attitude) are the drivers of poor performance.

class80olddog
class80olddog

I do agree with Astro below - if there is wrongdoing, fully investigate it, prosecute it to the fullest extent of the law, and hopefully the perpetrators will go to jail.  Do exactly the same with traditional public schools also. 

If I win the lottery, I am going to go to a graduation of kids from a poor APS high school and offer them $200 each to take the retired GHSGT (if I can get my hands on a copy).  The results should be interesting.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@class80olddog Good luck on that.   Fort Knox should be as well-guarded as those state-designed tests!

NATIVE_ATL
NATIVE_ATL

@class80olddog When you have kids having kids; and those kids are being raised by an overworked grandma You get those results.  I get it. If they had been responsible in the first place you wouldn't have to get on your soap box.  Well they weren't.  And they aren't (ain't)  reading what's in this paper, listening to CNN or FOX.  The ones you fear (because ya do)  wanna get what you got and not how you got it.  At some point -WE as a community are gonna have to get involved to turn this around.  And we are going to have to do it somehow at their level.

MotocrossSurvivor
MotocrossSurvivor

Yeah, brilliant.  Sounds like just another Afro jive thief...blew the stolen money on the usual stuff--strip clubs, expensive meals, trips, yaddayadda..  Mo money! 

Scamwatcher
Scamwatcher

Oh my, don't tell,us there are scumbag scoundrels in school systems like all the churches that have scumbag scamming scoundrel , snake in the pulpit preachers,lol. Wonder if the kids parents will,keep throwing money at the scoundrels like the dumb church members do?

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

Question:  If $600,000 is missing and only two people had access, why are they not in jail?

class80olddog
class80olddog

@Wascatlady So which one stole it? 

Also, I don't think it was "stolen" per se, that is, missing from the bank account, rather it was spent on things that it should not have been spent on.  Government agencies have had a lot of problems with "spending cards" in all branches.

Astropig
Astropig

@Wascatlady


"If $600,000 is missing and only two people had access, why are they not in jail?"


Because there has been no warrant issued for their arrest by a magistrate or Superior Court judge. No indictment has been issued. There's this little pesky thing called due process that ensures that we don't just lock people up because a few people get 'em all gunched up.


This ignorant comment is why I always implore you hotheads to follow the law. Follow.The.Law. FOLLOW THE LAW!


If there is a warrant issued for probable cause,then I say,arrest this guy.Make him post bail (hopefully with some of my old friends) and let him defend himself in a court of laws,not partisans.Or the court of public opinion,where you never get a fair trial.


Insiders tip- If he does get arrested,he should be smart enough to seek a plea deal,if he's guilty.

class80olddog
class80olddog

@Wascatlady @Astropig It may be that what he did was technically not against the law!  It is not like he went to someone, stuck a gun in their face , and demanded money.  No he was authorized to use the card, he used it to remove money from the account, and then he spent the money on things he should not have.  But unless there is a specific law to prosecute him with, the only recourse would be to fire him for not following proper procedures ( and he doesn't work there any more).  Of course, if he falsified the financial documents, that might be a different story.

What is needed is more oversight (at both charters and traditional schools).

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

Is the picture showing the founder rejoicing in his "Six Big?"

An American Patriot
An American Patriot

The school’s latest independent audit showed no financial management problems, Atlanta schools spokeswoman Jill Strickland said.


The "Independent Auditors" should be indicted as co-conspirators.  C'mon, even I could audit a set of books and discover $600,000. was missing.  Is anyone out there really surprised at this?

Astropig
Astropig

I'll say the same thing here that I said consistently about the APS scandal: 


Investigate this fully, give the accused a fair and public trial by a real court of law,with a jury of peers.If guilty,deliver stern justice. In short, follow the law,not the mob.


Repeat as needed.

gactzn2
gactzn2

I am sure many saw the gaping holes in the system- making things rife for financial mis-management- and ripe for the taking. 

class80olddog
class80olddog

Yes, lots of stories of financial mismanagement at charters, but not a peep about Dekalb county. One-sided? You bet!

Astropig
Astropig

@class80olddog


We're so used to scandals in the old system that they don't shock us any more.Just for example's sake we never read in this space how the Chicago Public School chief pulled a scam that makes this one look small. Why? Well, as I mentioned, we kind of expect it in the traditional systems. It's just part of the cost of having the rivers of public money flowing past everyday people that are all too human.


The power to ignore stories is the most insidious power that the media possesses.

class80olddog
class80olddog

@redweather @class80olddog If I am wrong, you should present the proof - otherwise it is just your opinion.  I see lots of stories about how charters (on the average) perform no better and sometimes worse than traditional schools, but never a breakdown of start-up charters versus conversion charters.  Also, never any comparison of the spending per student at charters versus spending per student at traditional schools.  Also, DeKalb county has one of the highest expenditures for administration around - so high they had to ask the State of Georgia for a variance on their rules.  Weren't we promised a forensic audit on spending in DeKalb, but never got it?  The spending in DeKalb may not be "fraud" by legal definition, but when they spend an excessive amount compared to other systems on legal expenses, there is something wrong there.  All those legal expenses comes at a price of no new textbooks and inadequate supplies. 

bu2
bu2

@Astropig @class80olddog


Chicago was a huge story nationally.  It was Rahm Emmanuel's handpicked CEO stealing massive amounts.  She got 250k up front with continuing kickbacks.  But nothing here.

Astropig
Astropig

@bu2 @Astropig @class80olddog 

Dern tootin' nothing here. Except here in the comments. Ever notice how some obscure knucklehead fraternity in South Succotash does something immature and this column goes all national? But when something really big happens that makes the status quo look bad...We have to be come our own "citizen journalists"?

redweather
redweather

@class80olddog @redweather The Get School blog is archived. You can search that just as well as I can and find stories, for instance, about DCSS's fiscal mismanagement which led to its SACS probation. There were stories about the School Board related to the same issue. There were stories about Crawford Lewis and the contractor scandal. There were stories about the bloated administration during the shortlived tenure of Superintendent Atkinson (?) not sure if that was her name. As for "proving" anything to you, I don't think your bias allows you to recognize proof of anything except your own closely held and often uninformed opinions.