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'Complicated criminal enterprise': founders of Epic Charter Schools arrested for embezzling state money

left to right: Epic Charter Schools founders Ben Harris and David Chaney, and Epic CFO Josh Brock
left to right: Epic Charter Schools founders Ben Harris and David Chaney, and Epic CFO Josh Brock

After a years-long investigation, two Epic Charter School founders and its former Chief Financial Officer were arrested Thursday morning and face several felony charges related to embezzlement and racketeering.

Founders Ben Harris and David Chaney, along with CFO Josh Brock, face a slew of charges: racketeering, embezzlement of state funds, obtaining money by false pretense, conspiracy to commit a felony, violation of the Oklahoma Computer Crimes Act, submitting false documents to the state and unlawful proceeds.

In a press release, OSBI Director Ricky Adams says the trio came up with a ‘get rich quick scheme’ to take dollars meant for Oklahoma schools. In what OSBI is calling a 'complicated criminal enterprise,' the scheme involved co-mingling funds, charging excessive management fees, using Oklahoma tax dollars in California, concealing profits, submitting false invoices and illegally using employees. Overall, OSBI says the ploy cost the state around $22 million.

OSBI has been investigating Epic’s recruiting tactics since 2013, but expanded significantly in 2019 when it was alleged the school was collecting state funds on behalf of so-called ‘ghost students’ who didn’t actually attend the school.

The arrests come after the State Department of Education issued a 75-page report earlier this week, which cited EPIC for significantly miscounting attendance and improperly using state funds to give bonuses to administrators.

"The money that Epic’s founders took was taxpayer dollars for children’s learning," said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister. "They not only robbed the children of Epic but the children of Oklahoma. It is unconscionable that the alleged deceitfulness of the school’s founders made them multimillionaires at the expense of taxpayers."

In 2021, Epic Charter Schools announced a complete governance overhaul, which included severing all ties with its founders.

Beth Wallis is StateImpact Oklahoma's education reporter.
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