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Feds sought campaign fund records linked to former e-school

June 25, 2021 GMT

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Federal prosecutors subpoenaed nearly two decades’ worth of campaign contribution records connected to backers of a giant, now-defunct online charter school accused of inflating the number of students it served, newly revealed records show.

The Justice Department and FBI sought Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow campaign records from the Ohio Secretary of State in a grand jury subpoena sent Feb. 4, 2019, the USA Today Network Ohio Bureau reported Friday. The document was obtained through a public records request.

The warrant sought all campaign contribution records since 2000 for ECOT, Altair Learning Management, IQ Innovations, WL Innovations, William and Jessica Lager, Richard James Harris, Melissa Vasil and Teresa Berry.

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A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Ohio declined to discuss details or the existence of any investigation. No charges have been brought.

William Lager founded ECOT in 2000 and used for-profit companies he created to manage and provide IT services to the school. The Ohio Department of Education determined ECOT should repay about $80 million in public funding that wasn’t justified by student participation data. The cash-strapped school closed in 2018.

Then-Ohio Auditor Dave Yost, now the Republican attorney general, issued a report in May 2018 that found ECOT may have broken the law by withholding information used in calculating payments and inflated the amount of time students spent learning. The Republican referred his findings to the FBI and the Franklin County prosecutor for possible criminal investigation.

ECOT has unsuccessfully challenged the state’s method for determining the $80 million figure, which it contended was not an accurate reflection of all the learning opportunities pursued by its students. It continues to fight the repayment in court.

Ohio Republicans took more than $2.1 million in contributions from Lager and other ECOT officials over the years. After the school’s troubles began, the Ohio Republican Party and several statewide GOP candidates either returned the money, donated it to another charter school or gave it to charity.