Federal agents have raided 19 charter schools, including three in Ohio, where an FBI criminal investigation in Cleveland has led to search warrants in Indiana and Illinois over the past week.
The 19 schools are managed by Concept Schools, a charter school operator headquartered near Chicago.
Concept Schools, which emphasizes math and science, has been investigated previously by the U.S. Department of Labor for its use of foreign workers. Ohio audits found that public money for the schools had been used improperly for visas. Concept received more visas for immigrant workers than Google in 2009, and many of the school’s employees are of Turkish descent. Most of the nonprofit schools’ board members in Northeast Ohio are male and of Turkish descent.
The company manages 19 charter schools in Ohio, second only to Texas with 44 such schools. There are nearly 140 charter schools, spread across 26 states, associated with Turkish Cleric Fethullah Gulen, an Islamic cleric exiled from Turkey, living in Pennsylvania.
The raid began last week as unmarked vans and agents seized documents from an Indiana charter school. The search warrants have been sealed.
“Last Wednesday afternoon we executed some search warrants in conjunction with the [U.S.] Department of Education and the FCC [Federal Communications Commission],” said Vicki Anderson, a special agent with the FBI Cleveland office.
“It is in regards to an ongoing white-collar crime investigation,” Anderson said, declining to divulge further details. “It’s a criminal ongoing investigation.”
Anderson confirmed that raids on Concept Schools in Indiana and Illinois were “all based on the investigation in the Cleveland Field Division.”
Katherine Beckwith, a spokesperson for Concept Schools operations in Indiana, released the following statement in response to the raid last week.
“Earlier this week we were asked to provide information to U.S. Department of Education officials as part of a larger federal audit of e-rate technology grants. Those officials indicated they are auditing the funds dispersed to various schools to verify that work paid for with e-rate grants was completed as reported.”
Anderson could not speak to the nature of the Indiana raid, or whether the audit also is part of the white-collar criminal investigation.
She also could not confirm or deny any connection with previous investigations, which date back to 2011.
A request for comment with Murat Efe, superintendent Concept Schools’ North Ohio Regional Office, was not returned Tuesday.
Doug Livingston can be reached at 330-996-3792 or firstname.lastname@example.org.