(CLEVELAND)—Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine today announced a judgment has been entered against an insider of a charter school that overbilled the state for more than $1.4 million. The judgment against Hassina Shabazz was entered in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court for the full amount of the overpayment, $1,407,983, plus interest from 2007. Any recovery will go to the Cleveland Metropolitan and other Northeast Ohio school districts.
"I take the policing of public funds very seriously, especially when that money is supposed to be used to educate our children," said Attorney General DeWine. "Those who are entrusted with those funds should be held fully accountable for them, and this decision sends a strong message that the state will vigorously enforce the responsibilities of school officials."
The International Preparatory School (TIPS) was a charter school that collapsed shortly after the start of the 2005-2006 school year. The Attorney General and the Department of Education sued to secure TIPS' publicly owned assets. The Auditor of State later determined that TIPS overstated its enrollment by hundreds of students, resulting in the overpayment.
The Attorney General sued TIPS' treasurer, Hassina Shabazz, to recover the funds. The Supreme Court ruled earlier in the case that a charter school treasurer is personally liable for misappropriation of the school's public funds if he or she is involved in the receipt or collection of those funds. The case was remanded to the Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court to determine whether Ms. Shabazz was involved with the receipt of TIPS funds. A trial was held last September. The Attorney General's office proved that Shabazz controlled the bank accounts TIPS' public funds went into, and that she wrote scores of checks on those accounts, including several large checks to herself and her family members.
The Cuyahoga County Court held that "Shabazz had control over the bank accounts used for the receipt and collection of public funds," and that she "is therefore strictly liable for funds paid into that account, including the overpayment."
This is the latest in several actions Attorney General DeWine has undertaken with the Department of Education to protect public funds flowing to charter schools. Those actions include:
- Successfully moving to revoke the Ashe Culture Center's ability to oversee charter schools. Ashe had overseen a number of charter schools with unauditable records and had itself received payments that the State Auditor determined were illegal. The Attorney General's office and the Department of Education obtained Ashe's revocation by showing that it lacked financial responsibility.
- Supporting several Cleveland and Akron Area charter schools' efforts to obtain a detailed accounting of how the company managing their operations spent their public funding.
"These efforts strengthen Ohio's charter school program by making sure that taxpayer dollars are spent appropriately," said Attorney General DeWine. "My office will continue to work with the Department of Education to make sure that money meant for Ohio's students is properly spent."
Lisa Hackley: 614-466-3840
Dan Tierney: 614-466-3840