The former principal of a closed charter school in Arizona was sentenced to 3.75 years in prison for participating in a scheme to loot $2.5 million by inflating enrollment. The principal was a high school graduate, which is okay in Arizona, where credentials don’t matter. The principal and his associates forged documents for phantom students.

Craig Harris of the Arizona Republic wrote:

The former principal of a closed West Valley charter school was sentenced to 3.75 years in prison on Monday, after pleading guilty to engaging in a $2.5 million enrollment-inflation scheme.

Harold Cadiz, 56, expressed contrition and took responsibility for his actions before Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Jay Ryan Adleman, but Cadiz placed much of the blame on two co-defendants who also face prison sentences in the fraud case.

“I’m tremendously sorry,” Cadiz said. “The state is so short-funded for kids, and for this to happen is appalling … The state has suffered because of my involvement. I knew it was wrong.”

Cadiz, who has a high school education, said he was “dragged” into the scheme. Charter schools, unlike traditional school districts, do not require advanced degrees for those running the publicly funded but privately operated campuses.

Cadiz’s plea deal with the state Attorney General’s Office had called for a prison sentence of between 3 and 12½ years with up to 7 years of probation, but Adleman settled on the lower ended and ordered that Cadiz also be placed on 5 years of probation after his release from prison. Cadiz and the two other defendants also must repay $2.5 million.

The judge noted in making his sentencing decision that there were mitigating factors, including that Cadiz was not personally enriched from the scheme other than keeping his job at the charter school.

Two sheriff’s deputies took Cadiz into custody immediately after the roughly 30-minute hearing in downtown Phoenix.

Cadiz is the first Discovery Creemos Academy executive to face prison time. Three former executives admitted to defrauding the state and federal governments by inflating the Goodyear charter school’s enrollment numbers by hundreds of students from 2016 to 2018.

Arizona public schools are funded based on their enrollment, meaning each additional student a school reports to the state brings more tax dollars.

Former Vice Principal Joann Vega is slated to be sentenced Sept. 23. She faces up to 8.75 years in prison.

Daniel Hughes, the former president and CEO of the charter school, is scheduled to be sentenced Nov. 16.

Harris says that Hughes is likely to get a sentence of five years in prison.