COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A lawyer for the Turkish government hired to investigate publicly funded U.S. charter schools started by the followers of a reclusive Muslim cleric living in Pennsylvania filed a formal complaint Tuesday with Ohio’s auditor.
Attorney Robert Amsterdam’s 18-page complaint alleges a network of 17 Ohio charter schools managed by Chicago-based Concept Schools engaged in improper relationships with its management company and landlord, with their business subsidiaries and with each other.
The complaint also asserts that Horizon Science Academies and Noble Academies have ties to Fethullah Gulen, a political foe of Turkish President Recep Erdogan.
Erdogan’s government alleges Gulen was the mastermind of a July 15 coup attempt in Turkey. The schools have previously denied direct ties to the cleric.
Amsterdam’s complaint alleges that Concept Schools have collected $19 million in excessive profits in Ohio through a real estate practice Amsterdam calls “closed-loop leasing.”
“They do it by being on both sides — and sometimes three sides — of a transaction,” he said.
Public documents cited in the complaint show a company called Breeze Inc. acquiring properties for Concept, and a nonprofit called New Plan Learning, which acts as an umbrella group for Breeze and several other affiliated subsidiaries, then buys, renovates, leases and sometimes sells the properties.
Leases and rental agreements the firm unearthed are often written to be non-cancellable, to include 2- to 4-percent escalation clauses and to make the taxpayer-funded charter school responsible for renovation and maintenance of the properties. Lease payments have in some cases been doubled, tripled or quadrupled, he said, and extended to 30 years.
Members of the charter schools’ boards who approve such agreements are often tied to one or more of the companies, the complaint alleges.
Concept Schools spokesman Mark Weaver claimed the complaint contains “numerous false allegations.” He did not elaborate.
He noted Amsterdam’s news conference was hosted by ProgressOhio, a liberal policy group affiliated with teachers unions.
“The last time this group made such allegations about Concept Schools, state education officials and the Auditor of State’s office found them to be incorrect and false. We expect the same will occur with these latest allegations,” he said. “Sadly, these false allegations undermine the hard work and success of our students, many of whom already face serious challenges.”
Weaver called Amsterdam “a foreign agent.” Amsterdam said he’s from the Bronx in New York City.
Amsterdam says “closed-loop leasing” revelations come on top of other allegations his firm and others have leveled against Gulen-affiliated schools elsewhere.
Concept Schools has consistently rejected the charges, which include that the chain misuses the H1B work-visa process to employ large numbers of Turkish nationals at the schools who must return a portion of their paychecks to the Gulen movement and that it influences politicians into disregarding questionable actions by handing out free trips to Turkey.
An FBI investigation into some of the Ohio charter schools is ongoing.