Three charter school executives have been arrested after a decade-long investigation by the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation (OSBI) uncovered evidence that they stole millions of taxpayer dollars in a racketeering scheme.
Ben Harris and David Chaney, the cofounder of Epic Charter Schools, as well as Epic’s former CFO Josh Brock, were arrested Thursday, according to the Associated Press. Per the AP report, the three men all face charges of embezzlement, racketeering, obtaining money under false pretenses, falsifying state documents, conspiracy to commit a felony, as well as violations of the Computer Crimes Act. In total, KOCO-TV reported that the amount stolen from the state is at least $22 million, though it is probably higher.
“This has been a very complex and arduous investigation with many roadblocks causing delays in getting to the truth,” OSBI Director Ricky Adams said in a statement. “Harris, Chaney and Brock came up with a ‘get rich quick scheme’ that lined their pockets with tax dollars that were to be spent for the benefit of Oklahoma students. The OSBI criminal investigation unraveled the intricate scheme layer by layer, in spite of a lack of cooperation, legal obstacles and delay tactics.”
State Auditor Cindy Byrd explained the mechanics of the scheme in a Thursday press conference.
According to Byrd, Epic Youth Services, an investment company owned by Harris and Cheney, received 30% of Epic’s allotment from the state, and was also given complete operational control of the schools themselves. In addition, the firm then forced parents to pay a $1,000 “student learning fund.” Byrd alleges that some of public funds went towards operating a school in California.
“Sixty-nine million dollars was taken by Harris and Chaney as payment, and another $145 million was taken by the company under the guise of the student learning funds,” Byrd said during the press conference. She added that Epic also created numerous fake employees “to hide the millions that they were taking for the management and administration of state-paid employees.”
“Instead of using their 10% management fee to pay for their business expenses and expansion of their company, they used money from the student learning fund as their personal piggy bank,” Byrd added.
Harris, Chaney, and Brock are all being held on $250,000 bail. Epic Charter Schools suspended all ties with the former two men, as well as Epic Youth Services, in 2021 as a consequence of the investigation.