You Paid For It: Pinellas Charter school exec charged with racketeering, fraud

PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — Marcus May, the owner of a company that once managed 15 charter schools across Florida is now getting schooled in the criminal justice system. In Pinellas County Windsor Prep charter school closed under a financial cloud of controversy in Pinellas County last year. Parents were certain the private company that ran it had stolen money. Now, state prosecutors say that’s exactly what happened to the tune of more than $1 million dollars in Pinellas, Hillsborough and four other school districts across Florida. 

“I’m excited, because hopefully karma does come around,” said former Windsor Prep parent Dorothy Dulau.

Newpoint Education Partners (NEP) owner Marcus May is now charged with racketeering and organized fraud along with his business associate Steven Kunkemoeller, who ran School Warehouse, Inc. and Red Ignition, Inc., companies that supplied goods and services to charter schools through NEP. Prosecutors say May used money stolen from schools to finance homes, luxury travel and plastic surgery among other things.

The scheme reportedly involved outrageous markups on equipment that NEP sold to Windsor Prep and 14 other charter schools, as well as rebates that May allegedly pocketed instead of returning to the schools.

In our own 8 on Your Side news investigation last year, we uncovered a fortune in fake loans that NEP was collecting on from Windsor Prep and other charter schools in Jacksonville that were never executed. NEP later agreed to “forgive” those debts after we exposed the fact that they were never legally executed in the first place.

As a result of NEP’s business practices, Windsor was forced to fold by the Pinellas County School District due to failing finances. Parents like Dulau were heartbroken over losing their school’s beloved teachers and furious about the circumstances of Windsor’s surprise financial meltdown.

“It’s sad what happened,” Dulau said. “It could have been such a great school.”

An Escambia grand jury indicted NEP in May 2016, but it wasn’t until Monday when the Escambia state attorney, along with the statewide prosecutor, charged May and Kunkemoeller in a far-reaching scheme involving schools in Pinellas, Hillsborough, Escambia, Bay, Broward and Duval counties.

Prosecutors say May used money he stole from charter schools—and by extension, the Florida Department of Education—to establish or operate multiple companies in Florida and Ohio and to acquire residential and business properties on both states.

According to a 15 page affidavit, May and others acting at his direction “wrongfully obtained and used millions of dollars in public money. From 2007 through 2016, the 15 Newpoint-managed schools opened in Florida received more than $57 million public funds.”

Prosecutors say that in addition to more than a million dollars in illegal proceeds, May’s company also received an 18 percent management fee that Newpoint was legally entitled to under agreements with the charter schools. All of those fees came from public school tax money.

Prosecutors allege May used a complex scheme of overcharges, pocketed rebates and kickbacks to steal from charter schools, all of which eventually folded due to financial ruin. Some of the alleged thefts involve big ticket items, while other illegal gains came from school necessities as simple as uniforms and lunches to finance a luxury lifestyle, cruises and travel around the world.

Prosecutors say May marked up the cost of uniforms at Windsor Prep and other charter schools by 100 percent before selling them to parents. Dulau says it cost her $100 to clothe her child to attend preschool for three hours a day.

Escambia Assistant State Attorney Russell Edger told 8 on Your Side that Marcus May—who owns homes in Ohio and Florida– is not yet in custody. According to the affidavit, May used some of the money he stole from schools as a down payment on his Sarasota home.

“I don’t know where he is,” Edgar said Monday.

Follow Mark Douglas on Facebook

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