Epic Co-Founders Speak Out Through Their Attorney
OKLAHOMA CITY -- The co-founders of Epic Charter Schools, Oklahoma's largest virtual charter school, are defending themselves from allegations that include embezzling millions of dollars in state education funds.
In an exclusive interview with News Nine, the attorney for David Chaney and Ben Harris says allegations detailed in an OSBI affidavit released this week are simply not supported by the facts. The affidavit, filed in an effort to obtain a search warrant related to OSBI's ongoing investigation into Epic, lays out evidence of four potential crimes: embezzlement, conspiracy to commit embezzlement, obtaining money under false pretenses, and racketeering.
"And it's our position," said Gary Wood, an attorney with the firm Riggs Abney, "that the four charges...laid out are not charges that Ben or David could be charged with."
Wood says the key problem for state investigators stems from their claim that Chaney and Harris "devised a scheme to use their positions as public officers to unlawfully derive profits from State appropriated funds."
"On page 2 of that affidavit," Wood stated, "it notes that both Ben and David are public officers, and they are clearly not public officers under the law.
Wood says state case law makes it clear that, in order to be considered a 'public officer' in Oklahoma, you must be an official with a state, county, or municipal entity. He says neither Chaney nor Harris is or has been an officer with a government entity.
"The embezzlement charge, the conspiracy to commit embezzlement, and the racketeering charge, as laid out in the affidavit," Wood concluded, "all require them to be public officers -- that's why we believe the agent made that statement in the affidavit, and that statement is clearly false."
The affidavit also details instances in which Epic students were simultaneously enrolled in private schools, home-school students enrolled in Epic, but without actually getting any instruction (so-called 'ghost students'), and where teachers were rewarded for boosting their enrollment numbers. Wood says it's both untrue and old news.
“All of that information was addressed with OSBI and the Attorney General's office back in 2017 and prior," Wood said, "and as of this date there has been no criminal charges filed in regard to that."
Wood insists the only thing new in the affidavit is a claim that an Epic student, identified only as Jane Doe, relocated with her mother to Portland, Oregon in October 2017, but was still listed as an Epic student in both 2018 and 2019.
Documents provided by Epic show the student withdrew and Epic reported that to the state.
"And after that date of withdrawal," Wood noted, "Epic received no state funding with regard to Jane Doe."
If Epic's founders are not guilty of any crimes, as their attorney asserts, there are still some who would say they took advantage of loopholes. Wood says it's not true.
"They are not guilty of exploiting the system, they have not committed any crimes," Wood stated. "They are audited routinely by the State Department of Education."
And Epic will now be subject to another audit. Friday afternoon Governor Kevin Stitt and State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister jointly called for an investigative audit of Epic, going back three years.
Epic Charter Schools responded quickly, saying it "welcomes the opportunity to once again prove to the public that our school follows the law."