The Gulen network of charters is perhaps the most transparent abuse of the charter school system in the US, and their troubled nature is on display again in the midwest.
A clout-heavy charter-school firm that operates four taxpayer-funded
schools in Chicago is suspected of defrauding the government by
funneling more than $5 million in federal grants to insiders and “away
from the charter schools,” according to court records obtained by the
The Sun-Times reports that the FBI is investigating "a scheme to defraud federal programs" running back to "at least 2007." The probe is being run out of the FBI's Cleveland office, which would not comment because the investigation is ongoing.
This particular scheme involved the Concept Charter School chain, and involved bringing in E-Rate funds and funneling them to private companies "affiliated with" Concept's chief information officer, including funneling that money through the Bank of Asya in Turkey, a bank alleged founded and operated by Gulen followers.
That information officer has since sort of, well, vanished from the US. But a computer consultant named Stephen Draviam, who worked for Concept until they cur him off and replaced him with other vendors who have "extensive ties" to the charter operators (read any story about Gulen schools and you'll run into the phrase "extensive ties" many times) has apparently talked to them. He may want to be careful about that. Another former Concept official named Mustafa Emanet broke ties with Concept and suddenly found himself arrested in Turkey for heroin possession. He lives in Ohio now.
The story that emerges here is the same one that emerged in the work of reporter James Pilcher of the Cincinatti Enquirer in October of 2014. Folks with Gulen ties open a charter school, staff it with foreign teachers on H-1B visas, and then begin strip-mining US taxpayers. Grant money, state funding, anything not tied down is sent back to The Movement. Even the teachers are expected to kick a percentage of their salary back to The Movement. The particular brand of fraud that the Sun-Times is writing about is
grant fraud-- writing fake grants for tech grants for the schools while
simply using vendors with "extensive connections" to just send those
grant dollars to The Movement.
The stories are legion. Chicago Public Schools denied Concept two more charters, so Gulen-connected folks took some Illinois politicians on a trip and CPS was overruled by the state. You can find entire blogs devoted to Gule shenanigans, like this one or this one.
Concept is one of the top charter companies in the Great Lakes region-- and their purpose is to collect US tax dollars to send to Gulen's supporters.
So what's a Gulen? Fethullah Gulen is most often referred to as a "reclusive cleric," a displaced political figure from Turkey who is currently out of power, cooling his heels in the Poconos and supposedly waiting for his chance. You can read plenty about his thoughts on his website. The Turkish government would like to have him back-- they've issued a warrant for his arrest. The US has shown no inclination to send him home, but he's also under investigation by the FBI.
The ongoing Gulen network scandals are a reminder of just how big a tool for fraud and theft of US taxpayer money the charter movement can be. We tend to talk as if charter school fraud is "vacation home in Aruba" scale theft, when in fact the accusations against Gulen point out that we're actually talking "maintain a foreign government in exile" scale of money. The narrative about the Gulen movement using US charter schools to scam US taxpayer dollars to run an entire Turkish religious-political movement is both convincing and scary, and more importantly, it's a reminder of just how badly the charter movement can be turned against the interests of American children, taxpayers, and voters.