Incito schools and two autonomous executives are accused of fraud and theft

Attorney General Mark Brnovich announced Wednesday that a state grand jury had indicted Incito schools and co-founders April Black and Amanda Jelleson for an alleged half-million-dollar 2016-2017 charter school fraud scheme.

The defendants run K-8 schools in Goodyear and Phoenix. They allegedly provided falsified information, including pay stubs, to the Maricopa County Superintendent’s Office to obtain grant funds, which they then failed to provide to the appropriate teachers, according to a press release from Brnovich’s office.

Efforts to reach the accused were unsuccessful. The Attorney General’s Office declined to elaborate on the statement.

The charges against Incito and its leaders are at least the third major case by the Attorney General’s Office since 2018 against members of the Arizona lightly regulated charter school industry.

Brnovich, a Republican who has been highly critical of Arizona’s lax charter school laws, got convictions of three executives at Discovery Academy We believe now closed in Goodyear who defrauded taxpayers of at least $ 2.5 million in a tuition plan. Two of those executives have been sentenced to prison, while a third is scheduled to be sentenced on Friday.

His office reached a $ 180,000 civil settlement with a married couple who run San Tan Montessori School Inc., which operates two Gilbert Charter School campuses. The couple agreed to reimburse the state after using public funds on tickets to professional sporting events and other personal expenses.

Private companies operate Arizona’s more than 500 charter schools, which are run on state and federal tax dollars.

In the case against Incito, Black (also known as April Castillo) and Jelleson were charged with five felonies, including fraudulent schemes and devices, two counts of theft of more than $ 25,000, conspiracy and one count of forgery. The total loss was $ 567,802, according to the Attorney General’s office.

Incito’s Goodyear campus does not meet the minimum academic standards of the Arizona State Board of Charter Schools, the governing body, records show.

In July, Incito obtained a forgivable loan from the Paycheck Protection Program of $ 318,975 even though the school did not lose state or federal funds during the last academic year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Incito closed the fiscal year on June 30, 2020, with $ 346,833 in “cash or cash equivalents,” and then obtained the PPP loan, according to its audit.

The school noted in its most recent Charter Board audit report that it “has complied with the loan forgiveness requirement and is looking forward to applying for forgiveness.”

A Arizona Republic Review of 100+ Charter School Financial Records, audits and federal documents from the Small Business Administration found that the vast majority of Arizona charter schools that took out PPP loans added to their cash balances or paid money to their shareholders and did not significantly increase teacher salaries .

Have a tip on charter schools or other research stories? Contact the reporter at [email protected] or 602-444-8478 or on Twitter @charrisazrep.

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