Perhaps you remember the A3 charter scam in California. The online charter chain managed to collect hundreds of millions of dollars from the state for ghost students. Its leaders were eventually arrested, charged, and convicted. They are still repaying their ill-gotten gains.

Kristina Taketa of the San Diego Union-Tribune reports that the latest installment of their restitution was $18.8 million.

She writes:

An additional $18.8 million has been paid to San Diego County as restitution for the statewide A3 charter school scam in which the state was defrauded of hundreds of millions of school dollars, the San Diego County District Attorney announced Wednesday.

Sean McManus of Australia, along with Jason Schrock of Long Beach, led a statewide charter school scheme from 2016 to 2019 in which they used a network of mostly online charter schools to defraud the state of approximately $400 million and used $50 million of that amount for personal use. They did so by falsely enrolling students and manipulating enrollment and attendance reporting across their schools to get more money per student than schools are supposed to, prosecutors said.

In total, about $240 million of the $400 million has been recovered. The District Attorney’s Office said it is not trying to get back all of the $400 million because some of the money ended up going to noncriminal actors, such as teachers, youth programs and others, who provided services for the A3 schools and who did not know the money was obtained illegally.

Of the $240 million that has been recovered, about $95 million has been returned to the state treasury, with an additional $90 million expected to be returned to the state within the next few months.

Debbie L. Sklar of the Times of San Diego provided more details on how the scam worked.

More than $37 million in fines has been paid to San Diego County as part of a court judgment stemming from a charter school fraud scheme that took millions in public school funds and led to criminal charges against 11 people, the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office announced Wednesday.

The total fine amount includes $18.75 million recently paid by Sean McManus, CEO and president of A3 Education, who pleaded guilty to stealing more than $50 million in public funds and was sentenced to four years in prison.

Prosecutors say McManus and co-defendant Jason Schrock directed subordinates to open up 19 “A3 charter schools” in San Diego County and elsewhere across the state, and collected state funds by alleging students were enrolled in programs run by the schools.

The District Attorney’s Office, which called the case “one of the nation’s largest fraud schemes targeting taxpayer dollars intended for primary education,” said the men paid for student information and used the info to enroll children in summer school programs at their online campuses. Prosecutors say some parents were unaware their children were enrolled in a charter school at all.

The defendants then took measures to inflate the amount of money the state paid the charter schools by falsifying documentation, which included backdating documents to indicate that students were enrolled in the charter schools for longer than they were or switching students between different A3 schools to increase funding per student or per school beyond legal limits, prosecutors said.

The perpetrators were very clever and very, very rich until they were caught.

In a curious coincidence, I had breakfast at a hotel in January 2019 in Newport Beach, California, with a friend. At the table next to us sat a man and woman discussing education and a business transaction. I tried not to eavesdrop, yet found myself fascinated by the curious combination of topics. As they got up to leave, I stopped the man and said, “Excuse me, but I wonder if you are in the charter school business.” He responded, “Yes, I am Sean McManus, and I run a chain of charter schools.” The boom fell not long after.