Raising Horizons Quest Charter School (two schools; now Global Leadership Academy)

CHARTER SCHOOL FOUNDER, SISTER SPARED PRISON IN THEFT (The Philadelphia Inquirer, June 3 2009)
Jun. 3--The founder of a Philadelphia charter school and her sister, both of whom had pleaded guilty to covering up the theft of more than $14,000 in taxpayer funds, were spared time in federal prison yesterday.

Martha Russell, founder of the former Raising Horizons Quest Charter School, and Viola Bush, the former chief financial officer, were sentenced to five years' probation.

U.S. District Judge Petrese B. Tucker ordered the women to make restitution of a total of $24,282, placed them on house arrest for six months, and directed them to perform 250 hours of community service…

Both women yesterday apologized for their behavior. Russell said she had opened the charter school in 2000 with every intention to do well by the children. "There is no explanation for this foolish act," she said…
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FORMER CHARTER SCHOOL OFFICIALS PLEAD GUILTY FOR MISUSING FUNDS (Philadelphia Inquirer, October 23, 2008)
Two former charter school administrators pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court yesterday to charges of conspiracy and altering documents in 2006 to cover up their use of more than $14,000 in taxpayer money for personal expenses, including restaurants, gasoline, travel and alcohol.

Martha Russell, the founder and former chief executive of the Raising Horizons Quest Charter School, and her sister, Viola J. Bush, the former finance officer, were indicted by a federal grand jury in April for falsifying credit-card statements to obstruct a Philadelphia School District audit of the school.

The case predates a widening federal criminal probe of city charter schools that was launched in the spring after The Inquirer disclosed that the district's inspector general was investigating allegations of misuse of funds, nepotism, and conflicts of interest at Philadelphia Academy Charter School in the Northeast.

The inspector general began investigating Raising Horizons Quest and ordered an audit in 2006 after former employees alleged that public funds were being misappropriated at the charter elementary school, which has campuses in Northeast and West Philadelphia.

The district forwarded its findings to the U.S. Department of Education to investigate.

The school - now known as the Global Leadership Academy - receives more than $100,000 in federal funds each year. In all, the charter received $4.9 million from the school district and state and federal governments in 2005-06, according to its nonprofit tax filing.

In June 2006, the district forced all but one of the charter's board members to resign, along with Russell and Bush. A new administrative team was brought in to take over the school, which Russell had founded in 2000. The school currently has 525 students from kindergarten through eighth grade.

The grand jury charged that Russell and Bush took billing statements to Russell's home in Blue Bell and altered them by removing personal expenses and inserting "purported charges for business-related expenses."

Russell then faxed the doctored documents to a coworker at the school "and instructed her to obscure the fax line on the altered statements and provide them to the Philadelphia School District auditor," the grand jury said.

Russell, 53, and Bush, 50, of Lansdale, initially pleaded not guilty to the felony charges.

But in a hearing before U.S. District Judge Petrese B. Tucker yesterday, the sisters changed their pleas and admitted committing the crimes.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Michelle Morgan-Kelly said the evidence showed the women had misused more than $14,000 on personal expenses and then conspired to alter the documents to cover it up.

In their plea agreement, Russell and Bush pledged to make restitution of $23,021. Bush also promised to return an additional $1,262.

The women face possible maximum sentences of 25 years in prison, although federal sentencing guidelines suggest a range of 10 to 16 months. They also face three years of supervision and $500,000 fines.

Tucker set their sentencing for Jan. 26.

Both Russell and Bush declined to comment.

Russell and Bush are not the first Philadelphia charter administrators charged with federal crimes.

Curtis Andrews, chief executive of the now-defunct Center for Economics and Law Charter School in Southwest Philadelphia, was sentenced in 2006 to 33 months in federal prison for defrauding the school district of $206,554 by devising a scheme to inflate student enrollment. He agreed to make full restitution as part of his guilty plea.
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TWO FORMER CHARTER SCHOOL EXECS PLEAD GUILTY TO EMBEZZLING SCHOOL FUNDS; October 22, 2008; Office of Inspector General Investigation Report
PHILADELPHIA - Martha Russell, 52, of Blue Bell, PA, and Viola Bush, 49, of Lansdale, PA, pleaded guilty today to conspiracy and alteration of records with the intent to impede the proper administration of a matter within the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of Justice. Russell was the Chief Executive Officer of Raising Horizons Quest Charter School. Bush is Russell’s sister and was Chief Financial Officer of the school. From 2003 to 2005, the two defendants stole funds intended for the school and later attempted to hide their unlawful activities while being audited by the Philadelphia School District in January 2006.

The defendants each face an advisory guidelines sentencing range of 10 to 16 months in prison when sentenced on January 26, 2009.

This case was investigated by the United States Department of Education and is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Michelle Morgan-Kelly.

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