Archives for category: Fraud

Trump lawyer Sidney Powell filed numerous lawsuits alleging massive voter fraud. Dominion Voting Systems was one of her major targets. Dominion is suing her and others for defamation.

Dominion Voting Systems on Friday filed a defamation lawsuit against lawyer Sidney Powell, demanding more than $1.3 billion in damages for havoc it says Powell has caused by spreading “wild” and “demonstrably false” allegations, including that Dominion played a central role in a fantastical scheme to steal the 2020 election from President Trump.


For weeks, Powell has claimed that Dominion was established with communist money in Venezuela to enable ballot-stuffing and other vote manipulation, and that those abilities were harnessed to rig the election for former vice president Joe Biden

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In a 124-page complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Dominion said its reputation and resale value have been deeply damaged by a “viral disinformation campaign” that Powell mounted “to financially enrich herself, to raise her public profile, and to ingratiate herself to Donald Trump.” The defendants named in the lawsuit include Powell, her law firm and Defending the Republic, the organization she set up to solicit donations to support her election-related litigation...

As Powell’s accusations about Dominion spread after the election, the company’s employees were stalked, harassed and received death threats via email, text and phone: “we are already watching you,” read a text message to one Dominion employee, according to the complaint. “Come clean and you will live.”


The company says it has spent more than $565,000 on protection for personnel since the election.


Dominion has sent retraction demands or document preservation letters, often precursors to litigation, to more than 20 individuals and entities, including to Wood, White House Counsel Pat Cipollone and Trump’s personal attorney, Rudolph W. Giuliani; and to Fox News, Newsmax, One America News and the Epoch Times, media companies that have lent Powell an enormous platform in the two months since the election.


Some of the news outlets, including Fox, have since backed off the claims or issued corrective statements.

Larry Cuban turned his blog over to retired Swedish teacher Sara Hjelm, a reader of his blog, who took the opportunity to warn American readers about the dangers of the free-market reforms adopted in Sweden.

Sweden adopted the “reforms” in 1992, allowing families to choose any school, public or private, and send their child there with his/her taxpayer dollars. It is the “backpack full of cash” theory behind the demand for school choice, as advocated here by Betsy DeVos and Jeanne Allen of the Center for Education Reform. The voucher system has led to a growing industry of private, for-profit schools, called “free schools.” Two of the companies that run “free schools” are listed on the stock exchange. They are comparable to our charter schools.

Hjelm writes:

The huge private for profit school companies exist on all these levels, competing for student vouchers. Largest part is in the upper secondary where more than 30% of students today attend such a free school. By cherry-picking “easy” students through aggressive marketing to parents (we offer good behavior, academic excellence, high grades, etc.) they attract students that are more or less self going and enable a profit for shareholders or owner consortiums by keeping wages low, having large groups, substituting some teaching for on-line learning, employing teachers from abroad on short term contracts and more hours of teaching, etc. 

As a result real student achievements and school climate are mediocre, about the same as in municipal schools and with a considerable grade inflation to that according to PISA and national tests. Students from municipal upper secondary schools have a slightly lower grade point average than students from free upper secondary schools, but still generally show higher performance and less dropouts during the first year of higher education.

There are also plenty of examples of parents told that their child does not really fit in, that the support needed is not available and they should seek a more suitable school. With a queue system for admission on compulsory level, where you can put your baby in line at birth, they keep all groups filled. And being private businesses they only have to share whatever follow up data they choose due to international business and stock market legislation of secrecy. If a school is not as profitable as expected it can simply close down with short notice or apply for bankruptcy when as much monetary resources as possible have been moved somewhere else in the organization. Stranded students are the municipality’s responsibility. The risk is minimal. At least for now.

She recognizes the important role of venture capital in the expansion of the publicly-subsidized “free schools,” and notes that it has led to persistent cost-cutting.

What matters most in this free-market system, she concludes, is profit, not education, not students.

This is a very worthwhile read.

Jake Jacobs is a middle school art teacher in New York. He is the co-administrator of the New York BadAss Teachers Association, an organization of militant activist teachers.

He writes:

Joe Biden’s recent nomination of Miguel Cardona as a relatively lesser-known, less controversial selection for Secretary of Education was telling. It shows the incoming administration’s reticence to take a side in the ongoing battle over school choice and standardized testing, just like most members of Congress and the major U.S. media.

On the campaign trail, Biden drew cheers from teachers for his promise to end standardized testing, but he noticeably never added any such policy to his website. As was well known by teachers in those audiences, federally mandated tests provide no educational benefit but are the fuel in the engine driving charter school expansion.


President-Elect Biden did vow to cut federal funding to for-profit charter schools, however this affects only about 12% of charters (who could easily change their model while still enriching their for-profit management arms). Biden has acknowledged charter schools siphon money away from public schools, agreeing to new language in the (non-binding) DNC platform to discourage charters from discriminating against high-need students but as we know well, Democrats for many years have bent to pressure from deep-pocketed industrialists seeking ever more charter schools


Not much has changed since the same billionaires threatened to fund other candidates if Hillary Clinton didn’t continue to signal support for charters. Remember Eli Broad’s explicit ultimatum to withhold campaign cash if Hillary sided with teachers against charter schools? We do. 


But Broad also donated money to then-senator Kamala Harris, and like many ultra-wealthy education reformers, Broad made good use of the “revolving door”, hiring Biden’s former chief of staff Bruce Reed (2011-2013) to run his foundation. 


AS THE DOOR REVOLVES: The same day he revealed Cardona as his education nominee, it was announcedBiden rehired Reed as deputy chief of staff, despite pre-emptive protest from progressives like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the Squad who objected to Reed’s past hostility to safety net programs like Social Security. A former top advisor to President Bill Clinton, Reed’s own bio touts his oversight of the 1996 welfare reform law, the 1994 crime bill, and the Clinton education agenda.


Starting in 2015, Reed was a senior advisor for Emerson Collective, the “social change” LLC founded by billionaire Laurene Powell Jobs who is also close to Vice President-Elect Harris. Though it’s not clear how Reed might influence Biden’s decision-making on K-12 education, he is expected to have a “major role” as Biden’s Deputy Chief of Staff particularly shaping technology and data privacy policy. And echoing Trump, Reed calls for the elimination of Section 230 which protects internet companies from lawsuits over user postings.
In 2014, while serving as CEO of the Broad Foundation, Reed made worrisome comments to Hillary’s education advisors, suggesting in private that whole cities could be mass-charterized in the wake of natural disasters, calling New Orleans an “amazing story”. Reed also voiced support for personalized digital learning using the Summit Charters model.


TAX BREAKS LINKED TO CHARTERS: It’s great to see watchdog groups expose significant waste and fraud in the charter school industry, but because U.S. media is so silent about the political influence of pro-charter billionaires, hardly any attention is paid to the generous federal tax credits enriching investors through “nonprofit” charter school construction and financing as public schools struggle for resources. One such program, the New Markets Tax Credit (NMTC), did make it onto Biden’s web page, showing he wants to expand the credit to $5 billion per year and make it permanent.


It might not be controversial to use a seven year, 39% tax refund to incentivize wealthy investors to start caring about economically disadvantaged neighborhoods in dire need of manufacturing plants and low-income housing, but why does the NMTC favor charter schools over traditional public schools which are literally crumbling on our heads? 


I tried to find whose idea it was to include charter school construction, financing and leasing deals in the NMTC. 
The program itself traces back to 1998 when a “membership organization” called NMTC Coalitioncomprised mostly of banks, investment funds, developers, LLPs and LLCs came together under the management of Rapoza Associates, a large DC lobbying and government relations firm who supplies policy briefs and “comprehensive legislative and support services to community development organizations, associations and public agencies”. Sound a lot like ALEC?


Legislation was championed by then-Speaker Denny Hastert and Texas Rep. William Archer, both Republicans. The program was signed into law by President Clinton and went live as past of the Community Renewal Tax Relief Act of 2000, but it appears charter schools weren’t included until 2004. The California charter nonprofit ExEd claims to have “pioneered” NMTC charter financing deals, boasting of dozens under their belt. By 2017, more than $2.2 billion in NMTC allocations were deployed to expand charter schools nationally.


The contention was that although charter schools receive operational funding for enrolled students, they must procure and finance their own space, thus they needed a helping hand from Uncle Sam. Today however, 27 states have enacted legislation granting some level of access to district facilities, suggesting some re-examination is in order.


Operators also contended that their charter renewal terms, usually five years, are shorter than typical mortgage terms which range from 10 to 30 years. Thus the need for charters to quickly show results introduced a perverse incentive, driving all-out obsession for good scores on standardized tests so the school can not only guarantee their charter renewal, but demonstrate to lenders they are a safe bet (or attract even more expansion capital). 
STAKES RAISED FOR TEST SCORES: Because the NMTC tax credit and a host of other federal programs give charters significant fundraising advantages over public schools, it provides financial impetus to target nearby public schools for closure. Anything that can be done to raise scores – or lower the competition’s scores – will help their chances. This not only gives rise to round-the-clock test prep, but the notorious practice of cherrypicking students. 


The shiny new facilities help attract the best test-takers, while rigid “zero tolerance” discipline policies are employed to dump “troublesome” kids back on the public schools. Even though the deck is stacked, superior test scores create the “secret sauce” narrative used to sell politicians on charters and drum up support for more tax breaks.


Over the decades, poverty-stricken areas have been repeatedly carved up and designated as “Enterprise Communities”, “Empowerment Zones”, “Renewal Communities” or “Promise Neighborhoods”. In 2004, President Bush announced the “Opportunity Zones” program which Donald Trump renewed in his 2017 tax reform law, with support from Democrats like Cory Booker. This program could potentially dwarf the NMTC because it allows tax credits and deferments for trillions in untapped capital gains income. 


Although Opportunity Zone deals are available to public schools, they would need to first sign over their property to investors. But it’s not clear these programs even work. Besides being rife with cases of abuse like the Steven Mnuchin or Rick Scott front-page patronage scandals, a University of Iowa study of 75 enterprise zones in 13 states found little to no economic benefit and noted other harmful impacts such as displacement, gentrification, or giveaways for development in up-and-coming areas that would have happened anyway. 


As chronicled by Network for Public Education and noted by Congress, the array of creative charter school flim-flams has been incalculable – from exorbitant CEO salaries, predatory leases and consulting fees to management firms charging taxpayers to buy out a school’s name and logo. Even school districts got into the act, authorizing charters schools so as to generate oversight fees that help plug budget gaps. But there’s a marked difference between sketchy charter operators and multi-billion dollar programs designed to help charters replace existing schools.


SWEETENING THE POT: The tax credits, designed by the rich for the rich, are only the first layer of the subsidy onion for charter schools though. Linked to the tax breaks are tax-exempt charter school financing bonds traded in investment markets, and then even more inducement via a secondary tranche of bonds leveraged by government subsidies to backstop the first set of bonds against default. One such program, administered through the infamous No Child Left Behind Act is the Credit Enhancement for Charter School Facilities Program, which not only assumes downside risk, it artificially buoys bond ratings and lowers interest rates for the borrower. 
These credit enhancements can be backed by federal or state funds, banks or private investors but again, the guarantees may be tied to academic performance benchmarks which precipitate discrimination against high-need students. 


To lure developers into distressed neighborhoods, enormous bond guarantee and credit enhancement funds (starting at $100 million) were created under the Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI) program, enacted as part of the 2010 Small Business Jobs Act. Charter school developers were among those offered access to long-term credit at below-market rates. In 2012, twelve of these CDFI fund management groups came together to form the Charter School Lenders Coalition, underwritten by usual suspects the Gates and Walton Foundations. The collaborative melded together ALL of the aforementioned programs with a stated goal of lobbying congressional reps to support more charters. 


Earlier this year, high-profile Democrats including Senators Sanders, Warren and Van Hollen co-sponsored legislation that would automatically deploy CDFIs in areas impacted by natural disasters or economic crises. 
If all these financial instruments are starting to sound complicated, it’s no accident – I’ve spared readers most of the dizzying acronyms like CDEs, CMOs, UDAGs and QALICBs, but the less everyday people understand, the greater the chance this all flies under the radar. Even the developers – be they charter operators or wealthy financial backers – require a lot of hand-holding by intermediaries to guide them through the maze of policy intricacies and applications. 


This is where yet another funding stream comes in, namely the federal Charter Schools Program, or CSP, which since 1994 has grown to into a $440 million annual slush fund for discretionary grants found to be so wasteful a third of 2006-2014 grantees never opened or quickly folded. Other recipients were found to be buying skyboxes or private jets, or unscrupulously charging themselves rent in cities and towns where local authorities are ill-equipped for oversight.


PULLING OUT THE STOPS: By the time Betsy DeVos took the helm, the U.S. Dept. of Education wasn’t just awarding start-up money to school-level charter developers but to all manner of other financial intermediaries including charter associations, nonprofits, state educational agencies, charter authorizers, and credit enhancement funds. The DeVoses know well that raining money on these entities will enrich real estate and banking interests, trickling down onto pro-charter candidates, local PACs and friendly media outlets. A week before the 2020 election, DeVos shamelessly announced the Trump Administration will start ignoring the crystal-clear prohibition on federal funds for charters affiliated with religious organizations, rupturing the separation of church and state. 


The NMTC technically expires on Dec. 31, 2020 but proposals for renewal have been very popular – the 2019 bill in the Senate had 37 bipartisan co-sponsors including Minority Leader Schumer, Amy Klobuchar and center-left Senators Jeff Merkeley and Sherrod Brown. The House version had 130 co-sponsors including Karen Bass and 22 other members of the Progressive Caucus. 


If there was an amendment to remove the exclusive carve-out for charter schools from the NMTC, it would allow the community investment to continue (for better or worse) but take the finger off the scale in the competition for educational resources. 


Such an amendment may not deter anti-union oligarchs like the Koch family bent on undermining public education. It may not deter data-mining tech billionaires seeking lucrative contracts or access to captive student audiences. It may not deter neoliberal social engineers who think their wealth ordains them to rejigger education as they see fit. It may not deter Betsy DeVos and her ilk from crusading for taxpayer-funding of religious schools.


But it could deter the garden-variety investor just looking to turn a buck, and it could bring attention to the little-understood giveaways to charter school investors. Also, it will flush out members of Congress afraid to go on record either for-or-against charters. As the battles over public education funding rage on, we hope incoming House members will infuse new energy into the fight, showing Biden, Harris and other policymakers the real-world harms and inequity built into charter school tax credits.

Trump called Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger on Saturday and spent an hour on the phone with him, pleading, cajoling, threatening, and demanding that he “find 11,780 votes” to flip the state to Trump’s column. Georgia’s state leaders are Republicans. The November vote in Georgia was counted three times.

In an exclusive report, the Washington Post quoted from a recording of the telephone call:

President Trump urged fellow Republican Brad Raffensperger, the Georgia secretary of state, to “find” enough votes to overturn his defeat in an extraordinary one-hour phone call Saturday that election experts said raised legal questions.


The Washington Post obtained a recording of the conversation in which Trump alternately berated Raffensperger, tried to flatter him, begged him to act and threatened him with vague criminal consequences if the Secretary of State refused to pursue his false claims, at one point warning that Raffensperger was taking “a big risk.”


Throughout the call, Raffensperger and his office’s general counsel rejected his assertions, explaining that Trump is relying on debunked conspiracy theories and that President-elect Joe Biden’s 11,779-vote victory in Georgia was fair and accurate.


Trump dismissed their arguments.
“The people of Georgia are angry, the people in the country are angry,” he said. “And there’s nothing wrong with saying, you know, um, that you’ve recalculated.”


Raffensperger responded: “Well, Mr. President, the challenge that you have is, the data you have is wrong.”

At another point, Trump said: “So look. All I want to do is this. I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have. Because we won the state.”


The rambling, at times incoherent conversation, offered a remarkable glimpse of how consumed and desperate the president remains about his loss, unwilling or unable to let the matter go and still believing he can reverse the results in enough battleground states to remain in office.


“There’s no way I lost Georgia,” Trump said, a phrase he repeated again and again on the call. “There’s no way. We won by hundreds of thousands of votes.”


Several of his allies were on the line as he spoke, including White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and conservative lawyer Cleta Mitchell, a prominent GOP lawyer whose involvement with Trump’s efforts had not been previously known.


In a statement, Mitchell said that Raffensperger’s office “has made many statements over the past two months that are simply not correct and everyone involved with the efforts on behalf of the President’s election challenge has said the same thing: show us your records on which you rely to make these statements that our numbers are wrong.”


The White House, the Trump campaign and Meadows did not immediately respond to a request for comment.


Raffensperger’s office declined to comment.


On Sunday, Trump tweeted that he had spoken to Raffensperger, saying the secretary of state was “unwilling, or unable, to answer questions such as the “ballots under table” scam, ballot destruction, out of state “voters”, dead voters, and more. He has no clue!”


Raffensperger responded with his own tweet: “Respectfully, President Trump: What you’re saying is not true.”

The article continues to quote the conversation in detail. It’s worth subscribing to the Washington Post to read this article in full.

Trump threatens the Georgia Secretary of State with legal consequences if he does not switch the vote for him and warns that the Senate elections will be jeopardized by the state leaders’ failure to change the results.

But Trump’s actions were legally dubious.

Trump’s conversation with Raffensperger put him in legally questionable territory, legal experts said. By exhorting the secretary of state to “find” votes and to deploy investigators who “want to find answers,” Trump appears to be encouraging him to doctor the election outcome in Georgia.


But experts said Trump’s clearer transgression is a moral one. Edward B. Foley, a law professor at the Ohio State University, said that the legal questions are murky and would be subject to prosecutorial discretion. But he also emphasized that the call was “inappropriate and contemptible” and should prompt moral outrage.


“He was already tripping the emergency meter,” Foley said. “So we were at 12 on a scale of 1 to 10, and now we’re at 15.”

Kentucky teacher and activist Randy Wieck writes on Fred Klonsky’s blog about the renewal of the Republican legislators’ efforts to raid teachers’ pension funds in Kentucky.

He begins:

At a time when the Republican super majorities in the Kentucky Legislature would seem to have more pressing issues to face – Covid-shuttered schools and businesses, unemployment supplements, eviction waivers, universal Covid testing and tracing – they nonetheless carry on with a new drive-by attempt at teacher pension “reform” which, once again, is a thinly veiled attempt to dismantle (let us be honest and use the proper term – gut) the Kentucky teacher defined benefit pension plan; kill it once and for all.

The idea of properly funding the plan, according to relevant GASB accounting standards, and repairing the damage inflicted over several decades of underfunding – is one legislators choose to duck. Better to chisel Kentucky’s way out of the debt it has run up through using funds that should have gone to the teacher pension (known as the actuarially required contribution), and which were instead used for other purposes. Perhaps they are following the lead of Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell who refuses to allow federal aid to states beset with heavy, unforeseen expenses during a worldwide pandemic. 

Rather than supply much-needed and adequate funding to TRS, (some $2 Billion per year for the foreseeable future) legislators instead prefer to “reform” the plan, placing new-hires into the old “beating-a-dead-horse” hybrid pension system.

Why not simply begin to pay back the missing funding and repair the damage inflicted by the legislature, and not by teachers who have dependably paid one of the highest pension contribution rates in the country (13%)? 

The federal CARES Act included the Paycheck Protection Program to help struggling small businesses and nonprofits survive the pandemic. Lobbyists for the charter industry slipped in a provision enabling charter schools to apply for PPP funding, even though they experienced no financial losses. Charter schools got a share of the $13.2 billion allotted to the nation’s early 100,000 public schools. The average public school received about $135,000 to meet the expenses of the pandemic. On the advice of their lobbyists, some 1200 charters also sought and won PPP funding. Thus charters drew funding from two sources; public schools were not eligible for PPP funding. Charters that applied for PPP funding won six times as much federal money as public schools.

The Arizona Republic reported that the Primavera online charter school in Arizona won a sizable “loan” (1% interest, forgivable), at the same time that its owner took a $10 million bonus.

Primavera online charter school, like many businesses this spring, sought help from the federal Paycheck Protection Program to weather the economic disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Chandler-based school received a PPP loan of nearly $2.2 million, the largest forgivable loan among the 132 Arizona charter schools that obtained them.

But Primavera’s loan appears to have been more of a bonus than a lifeline. 

The school, which like all Arizona public schools didn’t lose state funding because of the pandemic, ended its fiscal year on June 30 with $8.8 million in the bank — almost double the annual payroll costs for its 85 teachers, records show.

The school also shipped $10 million to its lone shareholder: StrongMind, an affiliated company owned by Primavera’s founder and former CEO Damian Creamer.

The school’s annual audit indicates Creamer controls both Primavera and StrongMind, noting he has “the ability to influence the school’s operations for the benefit of StrongMind.” Primavera paid StrongMind nearly $23 million this past fiscal year for software and curriculum services, records show.

Creamer declined to comment.

An Arizona Republic review of more than 100 charter school financial records, audits and federal Small Business Administration documents found the overwhelming majority of the Arizona charter schools that obtained PPP loans didn’t need the money.

John Todd, a longtime auditor of Arizona charter schools, said there are numerous problems with fully funded charter schools getting PPP loans intended to help struggling businesses.

“The PPP loans are taxpayer dollars intended to help the needy, not the greedy,” Todd said.

A few charters, including Legacy Traditional Schools, repaid several million dollars worth of PPP loans after The Republic reported in August that Legacy and other operators had millions of dollars in the bank when they received loans.

Most charters that got loans didn’t need them

The Republic found that most of the charter schools getting PPP funds padded their cash balances (savings accounts), and a few for-profit charter operations, like Primavera, gave money away to shareholders that matched or exceeded their PPP loan amounts.

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of small businesses have permanently closed because of COVID-19.

Further, The Republic found that PPP loans didn’t significantly enhance teacher pay at schools that received them. The 132 Arizona charter school loan recipients, on average, paid their teachers several thousands dollars less than the statewide average.The 132 charter schools receiving PPP loans increased teacher pay by an average of 5% — an amount similar to all 555 charter operations and 263 school districts.

Arizona public schools saw no major job losses or layoffs this year because the state Legislature fully funded schools and gave them additional money to raise teacher pay.

A 2018 Republic investigation found the state’s charter school industry, which gets more than $1 billion annually from the state general fund, has produced several multi-millionaires through self-dealing and lax oversight.

Creamer is among the prominent figures who’ve made millions of dollars operating Arizona charter schools. His online alternative school boasts more than 20,000 full- and part-time students. Primavera paid Creamer $10.1 million in 2017 and 2018. 

A spokesman for StrongMind declined to say how much the company paid Creamer. 

Ian Kidd, superintendent of Pima Prevention Partnership, said financially strong charter schools that took PPP loans open themselves to criticism and scrutiny. 

“I don’t subscribe to making money off of students. It’s not appropriate,” Kidd said.

Kidd said he obtained PPP loans for his three charter schools, but the money was used to cover social and behavioral services for low-income, at-risk kids. His three charters had a combined negative $7,031 in cash balances, even after getting PPP loans.

The SBA, under pressure from news outlets, recently released specific figures for all PPP loan recipients. Previously, it released only the names of the borrowers and loan ranges above $150,000.

The earlier SBA records had indicated about 100 Arizona charter schools had received up to $100 million in PPP loans. The new data shows about 30 more charter schools got loans.

Several watchdog groups, including Accountable.Us, have panned the loan program for enriching companies that didn’t need the money while shutting out many minority- and women-owned businesses.

Kyle Herrig, president of Accountable.Us, which compiled a database of all PPP recipients, said there has been widespread fraud and abuse of the program, including celebrities and wealthy companies getting loans. 

“The Trump administration’s faulty design and mismanagement of the Paycheck Protection Program let thousands of mom-and-pop businesses slip through the cracks without adequate aid while charter schools cashed in,” Herrig said…

Arizona Schools Superintendent Kathy Hoffman, who also is a member of the Charter Board, said she was astonished by The Republic’s findings.

“It saddens me those dollars are not going to students,” she said. “It’s very excessive. These dollars should be going where they are needed most, and that’s the students and instructional needs.”

Hoffman, a Democrat, said Republican Gov. Doug Ducey and the GOP-controlled Legislature should consider reducing state funding for full-time virtual charter schools like Primavera, which receives nearly the same per-student funding as brick-and-mortar schools that have more costs.

Ducey, at a news conference Wednesday, declined to answer questions regarding Hoffman’s proposal. He also declined to answer whether charter schools that received the PPP loans should return the money or have their state funding reduced by an amount equal to the loans.

Primavera's founder and former CEO Damian Creamer has been a major political donor to Gov. Doug Ducey, records show.

Ducey said the PPP loans were a federal issue, but added: “I want to make sure all public schools have available funding.”

Creamer has been a major political donor to Ducey, records show. 

Creamer spent at least $137,650 during the past two elections to mostly help conservative Republicans retain control of the Legislature. Among his political giving was $50,000 in December 2019 to the Republican Legislative Victory Fund, state campaign finance records show.

There has been no significant effort by Republicans in the Legislature to change the funding formula for online charter schools. A few of those lawmakers have financial interests in charter schools…

Paying shareholders, boosting reserves

In addition to Primavera, at least three other charter school operators that received PPP loans paid distributions to shareholders. Most of the rest put large sums in savings. 

The Republic found:

• The average Arizona charter school PPP loan was $393,055. Nationally, at least 5.2 million loans for small businesses were approved totaling $525 billion, with the average loan being $100,729, according to the SBA.

• The year-end cash balance for the 132 Arizona charter schools that received $51.8 million in PPP loans in April and May, increased by $62.6 million. Individually, cash balances increased for 87% of the loan recipients.

• Twenty-one charter schools that received PPP loans increased their cash reserves by at least $1 million, with Primavera seeing a $3.3 million increase.

Educational Options Foundation of Peoria, which got a $278,292 loan, saw its cash balance increase by $2 million to $13.7 million. The school has enough money to operate for four years without additional money. The state Charter Board only requires  schools to have one month of cash liquidity. A call to the school was not returned.

• For-profit charters Humanities and Sciences Academy in Tempe and Accelerated Learning Center in Phoenix made shareholder distributions of $388,770 and $230,000 this past fiscal year, respectively. Both amounts exceed the charters’ PPP loans.

The Montessori Schoolhouse of Tucson gave a shareholder distribution of $92,372, equal to about 72% of its PPP loan.

Calls to the three schools were not returned.

Jim Hall, a former public school administrator who runs Arizonans for Charter School Accountability, compiled financial records from charter schools that received PPP loans and said he concluded that they didn’t need the money. 

Hall said those loans should have gone to small businesses that have struggled to make payroll or mortgage payments. He said several of the charter operators engaged in “unmitigated greed.”

What follows is an alarming story about a young man who hoaxed thousands of people on Twitter, including Trump. The real shocker is not this particular story—which is so absurd that it’s funny— but the fact that it is so easy to set up fake accounts, collect money for fake causes, and impersonate others. This is a cautionary story for our times.

Jack Nicas wrote:

Last month, between tweets disputing his election loss, President Trump posted an article from a conservative website that said his sister Elizabeth Trump Grau had just joined Twitter to publicly back her brother’s fight to overturn the vote.

“Thank you Elizabeth,” Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter. “LOVE!”

But the Twitter account that prompted the article was not his sister’s. It was a fake profile run by Josh Hall, a 21-year-old food-delivery driver in Mechanicsburg, Pa.

“I was like, ‘Oh, my goodness. He actually thinks it’s his sister,’” Mr. Hall, a fervent Trump supporter, said in an interview last week.

It was a surreal coda to nearly a year of deception for Mr. Hall. Since February, he had posed as political figures and their families on Twitter, including five of the president’s relatives. He had pretended to be Robert Trump, the president’s brother; Barron Trump, the president’s 14-year-old son; and Dr. Deborah L. Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator. The accounts collectively amassed more than 160,000 followers.

Using their identities, he gained attention by mixing off-color political commentary with wild conspiracy theories, including one that the government wanted to implant Americans with microchips, and another that John F. Kennedy Jr., who died in a plane crash in 1999, was alive and about to replace Mike Pence as vice president.

“There was no nefarious intention behind it,” Mr. Hall said. “I was just trying to rally up MAGA supporters and have fun.”

Many of those “Make America Great Again” followers appeared to believe the posts. Records also show that some accounts served another purpose: directing people to give Mr. Hall money. They promoted a fund-raiser for a political group Mr. Hall created called “Gay Voices for Trump.” In an interview, he admitted that the group didn’t exist. The fund-raiser brought in more than $7,300.

Mr. Hall’s Twitter spree seems to be a case of mischief spun out of control, illustrating how a person simply needs a phone and some knowledge of the internet to start trouble that gets the attention of hundreds of thousands of people.

Mr. Hall was hardly the first self-professed Trump fan to try to profit off fellow Trump backers. Federal prosecutors, for example, said in August that Steve Bannon, President Trump’s former adviser, and three others had solicited donations to build a border wall and then pocketed more than $1 million.

Beware of salesmen in plaid jackets selling snake oil.

And he was hardly the first person to create a fake online persona. Fake accounts have been instrumental in the spread of conspiracy theories, and scammers have repeatedly posed as celebritiessoldiers and even Mark Zuckerberg to defraud people on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Those companies said they remove millions of fake profiles each year. Yet Mr. Hall showed that it was still fairly simple to impersonate key White House officials and the president’s family, including his teenage son, and amass tens of thousands of followers before Twitter took notice.

Millions of people have been lured down dark internet rabbit holes like QAnon, a pro-Trump conspiracy theory that claims satanic Democrats abuse and eat children and is fueled by someone posing as a government official. By comparison, Mr. Hall was a small-timer. His escapades in the alternate reality universe might have gone unnoticed — until Mr. Trump’s mistaken tweet elevated him to the big time of MAGA misinformation.

The New York Times identified Mr. Hall as the person behind the fake Trump accounts, which have now all been taken down by Twitter, and constructed a recap of his deception via screenshots of some of his tweets and an archive of many others collected by Ian Kennedy and Melinda Haughey, University of Washington researchers who use software to save millions of tweets about the election and pandemic. The Times also interviewed Mr. Hall, people close to him and people he misled online.

Mr. Hall said he became interested in politics in 2016 when he was a teenager, energized by Mr. Trump. “I kind of thought he was like a clown at first,” he said. “But the more I heard him talk, I realized: Yeah, he says kind of off-the-wall things, but I do agree with what he’s saying.”

He dreamed of becoming a conservative talk-radio host, he said, so he opted against college and decided to instead build a persona online. He sparred with liberals on Twitter; created a “public figure” page on Facebook; and self-published a 49-page e-book on Amazon called “Hall Nation” that detailed his “38 essential rules to live life in order to be happy and successful.” (The first rule? “Insults are a good thing.”)

Offline, he was not so successful. He struggled to hold a job, he said, including stints as a hotel clerk and sandwich maker. Most recently, he delivered food for DoorDash.

But online, he started to develop a small following. In January, he asked followers to help him pay for a lawyer, saying “a Planned Parenthood loving radical leftist” whom he used to date had accused him of harassment. He also began selling T-shirts that said “Josh Hall did nothing wrong.” He raised $815 on GoFundMe. Court documents indicate he is using a public defender. A hearing in the case is scheduled for later this month.

Mr. Hall said that around that time Twitter suspended his account without explanation. “Once I got banned from Twitter, my attitude was kind of like, ‘What the hell, I’m just going to have fun now,’” he said. (A Twitter spokesman said the company suspended his original account because he had created multiple accounts under different identities.)

So he started a new account under a different name: Rod Blagojevich, the former Democratic governor of Illinois best known for trying to sell a U.S. Senate seat. Mr. Blagojevich’s prison sentence had just been commuted by President Trump, making him a sudden ally in the eyes of some conservatives.

Our cat Dandelion (Dandy) resting on Mitzi’s bed. Mitzi was unhappy about this.

“OBAMA STARTED THE CORONAVIRUS,” Mr. Hall wrote on Feb. 27 under Mr. Blagojevich’s photo and a profile named @GovBlago. It was typical fare for the account, which eventually drew more than 26,000 followers. For much of the time it was active, the profile included a disclaimer in its bio that it was a parody account, which Twitter allows under some conditions.

The rest of Mr. Hall’s impostor accounts did not include such disclaimers.

Twitter eventually removed the @GovBlago account, prompting Mr. Hall to impersonate someone else in the headlines: Dr. Birx, the White House official working on the pandemic. “The media is lying to you about this virus,” he wrote as @DoctorBirx on April 22. The pandemic was “plotted by the powers that be to crash our economy in hopes that Trump will pay for it in November.”

The account didn’t gain much traction, so he moved on to a brand that was sure to attract more eyeballs: The Trump family. Mr. Hall said he went on Wikipedia to find Trump relatives who didn’t yet have Twitter accounts, and first landed on Robert Trump, the president’s brother.TRACKING VIRAL MISINFORMATIONWhy can’t the social networks stop fake accounts?Dec. 8, 2020As @BigRobTrump, he quickly gained more than 25,000 followers, partly by spreading conspiracy theories. “The coronavirus was planned and released onto the world by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation,” Mr. Hall said as Robert Trump. It was unclear if Mr. Hall believed such lies or if he thought they were just good at attracting attention, but they had become almost banalities in the conspiracy-filled corners of the internet where he spent much of his time.When Twitter removed the first Robert Trump account, Mr. Hall started a new one, this time under the username @UncleRobTrump. It did even better, ultimately collecting more than 77,000 followers from July to August.As the new Robert Trump account gained influence, Mr. Hall began using it to promote his own Twitter profile, @TheBiTrumpGuy.On that account, Mr. Hall, who said he is bisexual, called himself the founder of a group called Gay Voices for Trump. Mr. Hall used the fake Robert Trump profile to promote the group.

Mitzi, a wonderful 100-lb certified purebred mutt, at rest on her bed.

“Uncle Rob runs Gay Voices For Trump with @TheBiTrumpGuy, although I am very much a heterosexual male. It’s the Trump genes – we love women,” Mr. Hall wrote as Robert Trump in July. “But we are trying to reach out to LGBT and other minority voters. Josh is doing great work so please give him a follow and support him!” The tweets brought Mr. Hall’s real profile thousands of new followers.Tracking Disinformation ›

Not long after, Mr. Hall started messaging Trump supporters as Robert Trump, asking them to donate to a fund-raiser for his group, according to screenshots posted online by two people who received the messages.

“Hey patriot. Would really appreciate if you have a couple of bucks to spare to organization,” he wrote, according to one screenshot.

Mr. Hall denied he sent such messages and suggested that the screenshots had been fabricated. “I would tell you if I did,” he said. “I should have used better judgment and stuff. But I didn’t deliberately try and dupe people out of money.”

His fund-raiser on the website GoFundMe called his group “a grass-roots coalition of LGBT Americans” and said all donations would go to “field organizing, events and merchandise.” He brought in $7,384.

Mr. Hall admitted last week that the group didn’t exist. He didn’t do more than register about 100 people to vote. “I didn’t end up ever really doing anything with the Gay Voices for Trump,” he said. “So I never got the funds from it.” He said the money was still with GoFundMe.

A GoFundMe spokeswoman said that the organizer behind the fund-raiser — an account named Josh H. — had withdrawn the money. She said GoFundMe was now investigating how the funds were used and that the company would give refunds to any donors who requested one.

Mr. Hall didn’t respond to follow-up questions about the fund-raiser.

Moonrise over harbor in Greenport, New Tork

Josiah Bruns, an engineer from Goffstown, N.H., donated $100. With his donation, he left a comment: “Uncle Rob Trump asked me too.”

Mr. Bruns said in an interview that a QAnon message board had led him to the Robert Trump account, which also promoted the conspiracy theory. “We’re trained on the Q research board to always question everything,” he said, adding that he used those lessons to scrutinize the Robert Trump account. “I’m probably 65 percent sure that it was real.”

After The Times told Mr. Bruns that he had been deceived, he said he didn’t mind. In the future, he said, he would apply more research techniques he had learned from the QAnon movement to decipher what was real on the internet. The web is a minefield of lies, he said, “especially if it’s something you want to believe, because those are the easiest lies to fall for.”

In August, Robert Trump died. The news drew scrutiny to the fake Robert Trump account, and some of its followers began to suspect that Mr. Hall was behind it, given the pattern of tweets between the profiles. In response, Mr. Hall said on Twitter that the fake account was run by “a close political friend of mine” who “did not know about Mr. Trump’s serious condition.”

He began impersonating different Trump relatives, including Fred Trump III, the president’s nephew; Maryanne Trump Barry, the president’s sister and a federal judge; and Barron Trump, the president’s teenage son.

“COVID is a scam,” he wrote on Aug. 23 as Barron Trump, a fake account that attracted more than 34,000 followers in eight days. On Aug. 25, the account posted: “Q is real. The more the media delegitimizes it, the more it shows that they’re scared.”

The Trump Organization, which has spoken on behalf of the Trump family members in the past, did not respond to requests for comment. The White House declined to comment.

The Twitter spokesman said the company eventually took down all of Mr. Hall’s accounts for violating its rules on impersonation and evading a previous ban from the site. In response to questions about why someone could create accounts impersonating the president’s teenage son and a White House official, the spokesman said in an email, “We’re committed to protecting the integrity of the conversation on Twitter, and we’re working hard to ensure that violations of our rules against impersonation, particularly when people are attempting to spread misinformation, are addressed quickly and consistently.”

A review on Saturday showed nearly 100 fake Barron Trump accounts were still active on Twitter, not counting those that identified as parodies.

Without a Twitter account, Mr. Hall felt left out after the election, as many fellow Trump supporters convened on Twitter to claim that the vote was rigged. “Why not make a comeback?” he recalled thinking. “I’m going to do something to spice things up.”

On the afternoon of Wednesday, Nov. 18, he created a new impostor, this time posing as the father of Kamala Harris, the vice president-elect. “My daughter is not who she portrays herself to be. She is dangerous for our democracy,” he posted.

The tweet got little attention, so he abandoned that fake for another Trump sibling. The final living sibling he hadn’t tried was Ms. Trump Grau, the president’s older sister, who is in her late 70s, lives in Florida and has hardly said anything public since her brother was elected.

Mr. Hall changed the name, photos and bio of the Mr. Harris account and erased the old posts. Then he started with a new message: “This election inspired me to break my silence,” he wrote under a photo of Ms. Trump Grau and the username @TheBettyTrump. “My brother Don won this election.”

He went viral again, collecting about 20,000 followers in 24 hours. Mr. Hall delighted many of his followers with dozens more juvenile and bizarre tweets, including claims that President-elect Biden is a pathological liar, Ms. Harris is a communist and Michelle Obama is a man.

Mr. Hall collected over $7,000 with his fake “Gay Voices for Trump” Twitter account. Photo by Ben Mack on Pexels.com

On Nov. 20, Mr. Hall said, he woke up and checked the president’s Twitter account, as he did most mornings. “I was like shellshocked,” he said.

He quickly began bragging on Snapchat that President Trump had tweeted about his fake account. “My friend was joking, ‘Maybe he’s not close with his sister, and you just brought him and his sister a lot closer,’” he said. “So I kind of felt good about that.”

Within hours, the account was outed as a fake.

Mr. Hall argued that his accounts were clear parodies, if anyone just looked at what they posted. As Ms. Trump Grau, for instance, he called the CNN anchor Anderson Cooper “Anderson Pooper” and said he would cover the legal fees of anyone who poured gravy down the pants of Chris Wallace, the Fox News anchor.

“I’m a big Trump supporter, but I’m thinking, ‘He’s got to know that that’s a parody,’” he said. “How does he not know?”

The leader of Paramount Charter School in Broward County, now closed, was indicted for theft of federal funds. The school opened in 2015, promising to provide an education that would meet “the highest academic and personal standards.” Didn’t happen, say parents. After compiling a terrible academic record, the school closed in 2017.

Shauta Freeman, who said she sent three children there from 2015 to 2016, said the lights cut off at times, the water wouldn’t run, and so many teachers were fired that students from various grade levels were crowded into one room. “It was a nightmare.”

Now, the former president of the school, Jimika Williams, has been federally indicted on the charge of stealing federal funds from the school and committing wire fraud.

The indictment accuses Williams of embezzling nearly $389,000 in funds intended to go toward the school’s operating expenses. Instead, the indictment says they were used to buy a new car, pay her rent at a lavish Davie home and other expenses.

According to the indictment, Williams transferred funds from the school’s bank account to a shell account she set up to “deceive” other members of the governing board, auditors, local education authorities and others...

Freeman said the school initially sounded amazing when she first enrolled her children. But shortly after starting school she said her kids reported being left outside for long stretches of time, little to no instruction, days without lunch, and fighting between teachers and students...

According to the indictment, while Paramount struggled to staff classrooms and properly educate students, Williams made off with hundreds of thousands of dollars meant for the school.

Between 2015 and 2017, the indictment says she made almost monthly transfers between the school’s account and a shell account she created for sums ranging from $3,000 to $50,000 at a time.

This kind of behavior can be expected in states where anyone can open a charter school, and where oversight, accountability, and transparency are lax.

Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt kicked his own appointee off the State Board of Education who made the terrible error of trying to claw back millions from a for-profit charter school and supported a mask mandate in all public schools.

Gov. Kevin Stitt abruptly replaced one of his own appointees to the Oklahoma State Board of Education this week.

Kurt Bollenbach of Kingfisher, who was appointed in April 2019 to serve a four-year term, recently supported a high-profile move to claw back more than $11 million in state funding from Epic Charter Schools and a failed attempt to mandate masks in all public schools.

He also recently drew public criticism from school choice advocates for leading a delay of approval for a couple of private schools to begin accepting state-funded scholarships for disabled students and foster children over questions about whether the schools’ anti-discrimination policies met minimum state and federal requirements.

Stitt replaced Bollenbach by appointing a home-schooling parent who opposes mask-wearing during the pandemic to the State Board of Education.

Many elected officials wondered why Stitt would appoint someone to the State Board who has no knowledge of Oklahoma’s schools and no qualifications. State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister praised Kurt Bollenbach, who was dumped by Stitt, apparently for being too responsible.

Hofmeister released this statement:

“Kurt Bollenbach has been an exceptional board member whose legal acumen, breadth of experience and commitment to excellence have been of great value to the State Board of Education. He is a man of tremendous principle and integrity. Of course, I look forward to meeting his successor on the board, Ms. Crabtree, and anticipate a good working relationship with her, but I will miss Kurt’s bold leadership.”

Melissa Crabtree is an ardent opponent of wearing face masks. She will, one expects, continue to oppose science and public health measures as a member of the state board.

As a reader in Okahoma said to me in an email, “I think I am living in bizarro world.”

The Boston Globe reports that Attorney General Bill Barr said that the Department of Justice has not discovered any widespread fraud. Whatever they have found has not been enough to change the outcome of the election.

Attorney General William Barr said Tuesday the Justice Department has not uncovered evidence of widespread voter fraud that would change the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.

His comments come despite President Donald Trump’s repeated claims that the election was stolen, and his refusal to concede his loss to President-Elect Joe Biden.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Barr said U.S. attorneys and FBI agents have been working to follow up specific complaints and information they’ve received, but they’ve uncovered no evidence that would change the outcome of the election.

“To date, we have not seen fraud on a scale that could have affected a different outcome in the election,” Barr told the AP.

When will Trump stop claiming that the election was “stolen”? When will he stop undermining our democracy?