Ben Chavis was leader of the American Indian Model Schools, a group of three small charter schools in Oakland that captured headlines and the hearts of conservatives. He stepped down after being charged with multiple federal felony charges involving federal money used to lease space from buildings Chavis owned and a state audit claiming that $3.8 million of the schools’ funding had been transferred to his and his wife’s business accounts.

After a six-year investigation, all charges have been dropped, and Chavis will pay a fine of $100. 

“A former Oakland charter school director known for boosting student test scores through humiliation and harsh discipline has avoided jail time following a six-year federal investigation into allegations of fraud.

“Ben Chavis, who ran the American Indian Model Schools, will spend one year on probation and pay a $100 fine in a plea deal with federal investigators, according to court documents.

“Chavis had faced the prospect of decades in prison in connection with six felony charges of mail fraud and money laundering filed in 2017 following an IRS and FBI investigation into his financial dealings related to the schools.

“Those charges were dropped and Chavis pleaded guilty to one count of submitting false information on federal documents….

”He was known for his frequent belittling and humiliation of students and harsh language. His use of profanity and racial slurs was well documented.

“In one case, Chavis cut the hair of a student accused of stealing. Another who called a classmate a derogatory name was required to wear a note that said, “I’m an (expletive)…..”

Chavis changed the demographics of the school, replacing American Indians with Asian Americans. Scores rose. Chavis won the praise of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and many conservative commentators for his tough, no-excuses, anti-union views and practices.

“In 2011, an audit by the Oakland Unified School District, which oversees the charter schools, found Chavis directed $3.8 million in school funds to businesses he and his wife owned. He resigned in 2012.

“The Oakland school board’s efforts to close the schools that year failed and the three charters continue to operate.

“The federal charges followed a state investigation that found fiscal improprieties showing Chavis reportedly applied for and received more than $1 million in federal grant funding from 2006 to 2012 that he said would be used for the charter schools. The money was instead used for lease payments on properties Chavis owned, according to a grand jury indictment.”

There has been no further explanation.

Chavis will pay a fine of $100.