Editor’s note: Alyson Ford is a mother in the Charlotte, NC area. It wasn’t long after she enrolled one of her sons in a charter school that she began to feel something was amiss. Soon she was attending board meetings of the school and digging into financial records. What she found was disturbing and even led to conversations with the FBI.
What does this have to do with Alabama? Many of the players Alyson has uncovered are involved with American Charter Development of Springville, Utah. This company is heavily involved with both LEAD Academy in Montgomery and Woodland Prep in Washington County and has close ties to Soner Tarim.
Here is Alyson’s story:
“I have two boys. One has only attended charter schools. The other has attended traditional public schools, as well as charter schools.
My son enrolled at Lakeside Charter Academy in November 2017, during their rebranding and name change from Thunderbird Preparatory Academy. He stayed through the 2018-2019 school year (4th grade). My stepson began at Lakeside in January 2018, for 4th grade. We withdrew him at the start of the 2018-2019 school year.
We chose the charter school route for several reasons. The biggest being that one son has a severe peanut allergy. The thought of him eating lunch in a cafeteria, surrounded by peanut butter sandwiches was terrifying. Our district schools are much larger than charters as well. We liked the idea of smaller schools for our boys. We like the sense of community offered at many charter schools.
We were aware of the negative press since Thunderbird opened in 2014. I studied the North Carolina Charter School Advisory Board meeting minutesl. The school was frequently in trouble and on the verge of having their charter revoked.
We toured the school and found the interim principal amazing. She was the reason we took the leap of faith. We were cautiously optimistic when enrolling at Lakeside Charter Academy (formerly Thunderbird Prep).
Given the school’s past I vowed to be very involved and attend board meetings. I was especially curious about the EB5 investors involved with the school. Even though I repeatedly asked questions regarding this I never received much clarity. Sadly, the more I attended board meetings the more unanswered questions I had.
I became quite suspicious of what I was being told. I continued asking questions and researching all involved parties/companies. I didn’t like what I was finding.
I had a feeling these businessmen from Utah weren’t wanting to educate my boys out of the goodness of their heart. There had to be a monetary motivator. Where could money be coming from given the depressingly low enrollment that has plagued the school for most of its existence and years of missed rent payments?
I took a trip to the Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds office where I reviewed the sales history of the property, as well as work permits.
The property was initially purchased on May 5, 2014 by Provo Land Exchange, LLC for $1,300,000.
Six months later ALA Anthem Enterprises, LLC another Mike Morley enity (he founded American Charter Development and is a former legislator in Utah) became the property owner in a dollar free transaction. According to the work permits it appears that about two million dollars was spent on construction costs.
On June 18, 2015 ALA Anthem sold the land and buildings to Vertex iii, LLC for $7,650,000. Quite the whopping return on a minimal investment. I say minimal because three million dollars came from EB5 investors from China. It would appear that ACD and the Morley family wasn’t out any of their own money for the initial purchase and construction of this small school.
A curious side note about Vertex iii, LLC is the name of the registered agent; Jared Haddock. Upon further review of Mr. Haddock it appears that he is the President of the Alumni Association of the Board of Directors at Utah State University Eastern. Coincidentally Mike Morley is the Vice President of the same board.
June 30, 2017 Vertex iii, LLC sold their property to AEP Charter Thunderbird for $9,225,000.
This next sale occurred during our time at the school. On December 21,2018 Lakeside Charter Holdings, LLC purchased the school for $9.5 million. What I find quite odd is that during this time Taft Morley, COO of American Charter Development, was also the chairman of the board of directors at Lakeside Charter. He knows the schools financial struggles better than anyone. Why would he want his company, ACD, to purchase a failing school for such an inflated price? The assessed value of the land at this time was $3,315,300. This doesn’t seem like a wise business move.
If I was a betting person I would say most, if not all, of these sales are bogus and only on record to drive up the cost of rent paid to ACD via tax dollar money.
Upon review of various contracts ACD schools have with their tenants it appears that if the school fails to make payments ACD then has the authority to take over as the managing body of said school. I believe this is what happened at Lakeside. The school was set up for financial failure and completely incapable of meeting the astronomical rent demands thus opening the door for ACD to take over.
As my concerns arose I wanted to understand how this school went from max enrollment to barely staying open. It always came back to finances and the board of directors. The ethically questionable finances were alarming. In fact, I received a call from two FBI agents at the Charlotte Field Office. At the completion of the face to face interview I was told that it appeared there was fraud regarding Lakeside Charter Academy.”
Oh the webs we weave under the guise of helping children.