Pensacola grand jury indicts charter school company with ties to Pinellas

ESCAMBIA COUNTY, FL (WFLA) – An Escambia County grand jury has indicted Newpoint Education Partners LLC, a charter school management company that’s been at the center of controversy in Pinellas County for months because of the financial fiascos at the schools it runs on taxpayer dollars.

The Grand Jury Indictment focuses on now-shuttered schools in Penasacola that Escambia prosecutors claim were the victims of theft and money laundering by means of “false pretenses, theft tor deception.”

RELATED: Pinellas charter schools call for audit to explain $1.3 million loan by private managers

Three related indictments also charge vendors with close ties to Newpoint.  No individuals are named in any of the indictments but Escambia Prosecutor Russel Edgar tells 8 On Your Side the investigation is still developing.

“The education of our young people is of critical concern and we have limited resources,” Edgar said.

Edgar explained the charges are the result of misappropriated state money for computers, furnishings and other goods that was supposed to fund the start-up of charter schools in Penasacola managed by Newpoint. Those schools have now been closed for several years largely due to Newpoint management issues.

Here in Pinellas County Newpoint has been at the center of controversy because of an ongoing financial fiasco at four schools it manages. Windsor Prep and Academy are in St. Petersburg and Newpoint High and Academy are located in Clearwater.

“Everybody has to be accountable to the taxpayers when you take taxpayers money,” said Chris Wiand who is the principal of the two schools managed by Newpoint in Clearwater. Board members at all four Pinellas schools have taken steps to fire Newpoint as their manager.

RELATED: Charter school parents in St. Pete learn of staggering $1.5 million debt

Two months ago 8 On Your Side revealed that $1 million in loans that Newpoint claimed it made to Windsor Prep didn’t actually exist. When Newpoint failed to produce any paperwork for those loans, the company then claimed the so-called loans were actually cash advances and deferred fees.

Shortly after our investigation publicized the issue, Newpoint announced it was suddenly quitting the Pinellas schools and selling its business interests to a new management company, Alliance Education Services. Friday Alliance executive Jennifer Lucas told 8 On Your Side her company is no longer interested in acquiring Newpoint in light of the Grand Jury indictment.

“We have no intention of moving forward,” Lucas wrote in an email.

RELATED: Windsor Prep parents take action to save charter school

Edgar tells 8 On Your side the Grand Jury investigation of Newpoint in Escampba County is ongoing. So far it focuses on schools in Pensacola but investigators are looking into what’s transpired in Pinellas County, as well. “We did look at and have looked at Pinellas County and will continue to do so but I can’t comment on exactly what that has resulted in at this time,” Edgar said.

Meanwhile, The Pinellas School District is continuing to analyze the financial crises at charter schools managed by Newpoint, especially in light of the Grand Jury action in Pensacola. “Our legal staff is taking a close look at this indictment and will take appropriate next steps,” said district spokeswoman Lisa Wolf.

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