FBI, IRS Search Oakland School at Center of Criminal Investigation
By Doug Oakley Staff Writer Bay Area News Group firstname.lastname@example.org
OAKLAND -- The FBI and IRS have opened a criminal investigation into a charter school whose former director allegedly funneled $3.8 million from the school to companies he owns for construction and classroom rental spaces, and they were executing search warrants at three locations Wednesday afternoon.
"These are sealed search warrants and they are part of an ongoing criminal investigation," said FBI spokeswoman Julie Sohn.
Sohn would not say when the investigation into American Indian Model Schools started or what it entails.
A state audit last year found that former school director Ben Chavis, who now lives in North Carolina, broke state laws including the Political Reform Act, when he directed the school to hire his companies.
Chavis did not immediately return phone calls Wednesday. Current school director Nabeehah Shakir also was not available for comment.
In June, Chavis said the money he got from the school for renovation and construction was money he donated to the school and that he rented buildings to the school at below market rates.
"If there is $3.8 million missing, there should be checks," Chavis said. "Show me the checks."
A lawyer for the school has argued Chavis did not break the law because he disclosed the contracts to his school board and recused himself from voting on them.
The Oakland school district revoked the school's charter in March based on the audit and ordered the school to close. The Alameda County board of education affirmed that revocation, but the school filed a lawsuit challenging the revocation and on Monday an Alameda County judge issued an order allowing the school to stay open.
Oakland schools Superintendent Gary Yee said he did not know about the federal investigation.
"The audit showed there were some state and federal funds involved, so it's my guess the investigation has something to do with that, but we really don't know," Yee said.
DougOakley covers Berkeley and the Oakland school district. Contact him at 510-843-1408. Follow him on Twitter @douglasoakley.