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Philadelphia Charter Founder Charged with Fraud

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A charter school founder has been charged with defrauding a group of Philadelphia schools of $6.5 million, and a number of other individuals are accused of conspiring to obstruct justice, in the latest in a series of high-profile accusations of financial wrongdoing within the independent school sector.

Dorothy June Brown was accused Tuesday by federal authorities of using her private management companies, Cynwyd and AcademicQuest, to defraud the Agora Cyber Charter School and the Planet Abacus Charter School, which she founded in 2005 and 2007. Brown is also charged with defrauding the Laboratory Charter School of Communication and Languages, which she founded in 1997, according to the indictment brought by the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

Federal officials say Brown, 75, had Agora make improper payments to the Cynwyd company for more than $5.6 million under a fabricated management contract. The indictment says that Brown was involved in creating false documents, including fabricated board meeting minutes and made-up contracts, to make it appear as if the boards of of her schools held meetings and approved contracts with her private companies.

The 62-count indictment also charges four current or former charter school executives with conspiring with Brown to obstruct justice: Joan Woods Chalker, 74, of Springfield, Pa.; Michael A. Slade, 31, of Philadelphia; Courteney L. Knight, 64, of King of Prussia, Pa.; and Anthony Smoot, 49, of New Castle, Del. The indictment claims that they altered, falsified, or destroyed various records belonging to Brown's private companies, after subpoenas for a grand jury were issued four years ago.

In April of this year, federal officials say, Brown also engaged in witness tampering by attempting to keep an individual from informing law enforcement officers that signatures had been forged on a fabricated contract.

The case is the latest in a string of allegations of financial waste or abuse brought against charters across the country in recent months. One of those cases involved the head of another Philadelphia charter school who pleaded guilty to stealing public funds to finance business and real estate deals. But accusations financial irregularity have been levied recently at charters in New York, Missouri, California, and other states.

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