By Martha Woodall
Inquirer Staff Writer
The embattled board of the Philadelphia Academy Charter School last night released a scathing internal report alleging that the charter's founder and its former chief executive officer systematically looted the school for personal gain.
The report, compiled by a team of lawyers led by a former federal prosecutor, says more than $700,000 is missing from a school account and cites "substantial evidence of wrongdoing" by Brien N. Gardiner, a former public school principal who founded the popular charter in Northeast Philadelphia, and Kevin M. O'Shea, a former police officer who replaced Gardiner as CEO two years ago.
Gardiner's alleged "frauds" were complex and included what appears to have been a no-interest $70,000 loan to one of his other business entities, the report says.
O'Shea's misconduct, it says, was "no less destructive, as he systematically siphoned cash from virtually every aspect of [the school's] operations, even going so far as to misappropriate money raised by the Student Council and National Honor Society that was intended for the Marine Corps' Toys for Tots Program."
The 62-page report, by former federal prosecutor Henry E. Hockeimer and other attorneys at Ballard Spahr Andrews & Ingersoll L.L.P., also alleges that O'Shea's sister, Constance, coordinator of the school's elementary program, destroyed computer records in April at her brother's behest to keep investigators from getting them.
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Hockeimer's team found Gardiner had violated his duties to the charter to advance other business interests. By doing so, the report says, he jeopardized the school's ability to pay for capital projects and educational programs.
"Gardiner's conduct is particularly surprising and disappointing in light of the profound trust PACS' faculty, staff, parents and students placed in him," the report says.
Ballard Spahr investigators labeled O'Shea's allegedly fraudulent conduct "pervasive." Their report says they uncovered "substantial evidence" that he stole a large amount of lunch money at the high school, pocketed the $2 students paid to attend school without uniforms on Dress Down Days, kept the proceeds from the candy and soda machines at the school, and forced maintenance staff to cut his lawn and make repairs to the $1.4 million house he built in Beach Haven.
A former city police officer with a high school diploma, O'Shea earned $204,000 as the school's chief executive officer until he and Gardiner were fired in May.
The "largest abuse in monetary terms" detailed in the report stems from actions of the nonprofit that owns the Philadelphia Academy's high school building. The school has been paying nearly $67,000 a month in taxpayer money to rent the building from Philadelphia Academy Charter Development Corp., a nonprofit established by Gardiner that had been led by O'Shea's wife, Jamie. . . .
Saturday, July 19, 2008
As ideologues press on in their battle to replace public schools in urban areas with unregulated, though tax-supported, charter chain gangs for the poor, the opportunities for corruption and outright thievery increase. Here are details of the latest from Philadelphia, where freedom from oversight quickly turned to the opportunity to loot: