This is one of the most curious, most convoluted charter scandals I have come across. Of course, it happened in Michigan, where about 80% of charters operate for-profit and where the state exercises minimal oversight of the charter sector.
In 1999, an optometrist named Steven Ingersoll was among the first to see the potential in the charter industry. He developed his own pedagogy called Integrated Visual Learning and opened the first of four charters, Grand Traverse Academy. The board of directors were other optometrists who liked Ingersoll’s ideas. Certainly, optometrists would be drawn to a teaching method based on “visual learning.”
There were chummy relationships among Ingersoll, the management company he hired, and board members:
“It was not until lawyers for the school began asking questions that the tangled financial relationship between Ingersoll’s management company and the charter he founded began to unravel, culminating in the most significant federal criminal case in the history of Michigan’s 20-year-old charter school industry. Ingersoll, who started Smart Schools Management, Inc., stands accused of illegally diverting construction loan money for another charter school to his private account, in part to pay back money he had taken from the Grand Traverse charter. His hand-picked members on the school board knew he had advanced himself money from Grand Traverse, but had no problem with the arrangement, school records show.
“Ingersoll will go on trial next month on seven criminal charges of bank fraud and tax evasion. The allegations of financial self-dealing and cozy relations between Ingersoll, his associates and board members could not come at a worse time for the Michigan charter movement. The state’s powerful, mostly for-profit charter school industry has found itself on the defensive since the Detroit Free Press published a devastating series last June chronicling how charters receive nearly $1 billion a year in state taxpayer money with little accountability or transparency on how that money is spent. The series detailed how board members at some charter schools were forced out when they pushed to learn more about finances from management companies, and how state law failed to prevent self-enrichment by those operating some low-performing charter schools.”
One blogger, Anita Senkowski, doggedly followed the case of Steven Ingersoll and posted documents. Her blog is called “Glistening Quivering Underbelly,” where she calls herself Miss Fortune. She described Ingersoll as the poster boy for Michigan’s lack of charter oversight.
Ingersoll was indicted in 2014 and convicted in 2015 for tax evasion and fraud.
Senkowski wrote last fall:
“Convicted in March  on three counts of tax evasion and conspiracy, Ingersoll owned and formerly managed the Bay City Academy and managed the Grand Traverse Academy until days before his April 10, 2014 indictment.
“Between 2007-2012, Ingersoll misappropriated an estimated $3.5 million dollars from the Traverse City charter school — but has never been investigated or charged with embezzlement.
“And what about the Grand Traverse Academy’s Board of Directors? After much public posturing, it opted not to pursue any legal remedy to recover the money, and apparently that’s where it stands.”
Senkowski alleged that the board knew what Ingersoll was doing and didn’t care.
Now she has another bombshell report. Even after Ingersoll’s indictment, he continued to receive monthly payments of $12,500 from Mark Noss, a member of Ingersoll’s original board who started his own charter management company.
“An accountant formerly employed by Mark Noss at his Full Spectrum Management, LLC (FSM) sent a stunning whistleblower email to the Grand Traverse Academy Board of Directors on March 15, 2016 at 6:00pm, alleging Noss deceived the Board when he stated during its December 17, 2015 meeting that he “has no business relationship with Dr. Ingersoll at the present time.”
“The former FSM accountant disclosed information to Board president Brad Habermehl and Grand Traverse Academy employee, Heidi Sych, that revealed Noss had been making monthly $12,500 payments to Steven Ingersoll for nearly two years.
“The incendiary email, sent by former FSM accountant Richard Lowe, and a March 16, 2016 response from Mark Noss, were both provided to the U. S. Attorney’s Office by counsel for Lake Superior State University.
“According to a supplemental brief filed late this afternoon by government prosecutors, FSM honcho Mark Noss acknowledged paying Ingersoll $12,500 per month since he took over the role of educational services provider for the Grand Traverse Academy on March 19, 2014, with the first payment issued in April 2014.”