ROAD APPLES & ACCOUNTS RECEIVABLE: Did key Grand Traverse Academy board members, its former superintendent and the head of its current management company act in concert to cover up the massive embezzlement of millions of taxpayer dollars?
In my opinion, the answer is a resounding “yes”. Here are the top three lies:
1) LIE #1: Between 2007-2012, Steven Ingersoll rebated back to the Grand Traverse Academy a portion of his annual management fees, creating a $3.5 million “accounts receivable” balance by June 2012. Steven Ingersoll is a philanthropist, not a thief.
TRUTH: Ingersoll admitted under oath December 8, 2015 during his sentencing hearing that he used a fabricated accounts receivable scheme as financial cover for diverting millions of dollars from the Grand Traverse Academy. Ingersoll paid himself his entire management fee in a lump sum at the beginning of each school year based on an estimated budget. At the end of each fiscal year, Ingersoll booked his annual overpayment as a “receivable”, and used school funds at the beginning of the next fiscal year to repay the previous year’s receivable. However, Ingersoll then moved the money back into one of his many bank accounts days after his so-called “payment”, and created a new (and even larger) receivable. This scheme began in earnest in 2007 and continued through 2012. Ingersoll never rebated any of his fees, he just made it look like he had.
2) LIE #2: There were no conflicts of interest involving Steven Ingersoll, former board president and current management company head Mark Noss and past board president Brad Habermehl. Noss insisted for years he had “no business relationship” with Ingersoll, while Habermehl publicly presented himself as the board's spokesperson.
TRUTH: A whistleblower revealed in a March 15, 2016 email that Noss had been making cash payments to Ingersoll since assuming control of the Grand Traverse Academy in March 2014. And Habermehl's conflict was revealed during his December 8, 2015 sentencing hearing testimony. The stunning exchange between Habermehl and AUSA Janet Parker laid bare emails Habermehl had sent (beginning in late November 2014 and continuing after Ingersoll's March 10, 2015 conviction) to a business associate covertly soliciting a $300,000 loan on behalf of his “friend and colleague” Steven Ingersoll. Habermehl admitted under oath that he, Ingersoll and former Lake Superior State University Charter Office head Bruce Harger were three of the five partners planning a private school project. As I later revealed on this blog, Harger, Noss and Habermehl all sent letters to the Michigan Optometry Board on April 27, 2016 in support of Steven Ingersoll retaining his optometry license.
3) LIE #3: Steven Ingersoll's criminal case had nothing to do with the Grand Traverse Academy.
TRUTH: Even by the very narrowly-defined perspective of his recent federal tax evasion and fraud convictions, Ingersoll's legal problems have much to do with the Grand Traverse Academy. The federal government's case against Steven Ingersoll (with respect to convictions on Counts 2, 6, and 7) primarily focused on allegations that in 2009, 2010 and 2011, Ingersoll received significant amounts of money from two closely-held corporate entities that he owned and controlled: Smart Schools Management (“SSM”) and Smart Schools Incorporated (“SSI”).
A September 22, 2016 court document filed in Ingersoll's case contained a stunning revelation: the Grand Traverse Academy board had deferred recovery of $5 million owed to the charter school by Steven Ingersoll before it decided “excuse the 5 million”.
Whose testimony was that? Brad Habermehl, former board president and Steven Ingersoll crony.
With a potential FBI investigation, and sweating a potential examination by the SEC due to the misleading financial statements filed with its bond trustee, the Grand Traverse Academy's Ingersoll-related problems will likely continue for many years.