More charges against charter-school officials

Posted: January 24, 2013

 The U.S. Attorney's Office announced five additional charges Tuesday against charter school founder Dorothy June Brown and three former administrators for defrauding the schools.

The superseding indictment charges Brown, 75, of Haverford, and Joan Woods Chalker, 74, of Springfield, Delaware County, with two counts of wire fraud and one more count of obstruction of justice.

The grand jury alleged that the wire fraud and obstruction occurred as part of schemes to defraud charter schools that Brown had founded of $214,095.

Courteney L. Knight, 65, of King of Prussia, was charged with two more counts of obstruction of justice. Michael A. Slade Jr., 31, of Philadelphia, was charged with one more count of obstructing justice.

The charges are in addition to a 62-count indictment a federal grand jury returned July 24 that charged Brown and the former administrators with defrauding the schools of more than $6.5 million. Those charges include wire fraud, conspiracy to obstruct justice, and witness tampering.

Before being charged, Chalker, who had worked with Brown and her charter schools for years, was the chief executive of Planet Abacus Charter School in Tacony.

Slade, Brown's grandnephew, was the chief executive at Laboratory Charter School. Knight, a former CEO at Ad Prima Charter School, was teaching at Laboratory.

A former Philadelphia School District principal, Brown founded three small kindergarten-through-eighth-grade charter schools in Philadelphia: Laboratory, which has campuses in Northern Liberties, Overbrook, and Wynnefield; Ad Prima, in Overbrook and Frankford; and Planet Abacus, in Tacony.

Within days of the indictments, the boards of Planet Abacus and Laboratory held emergency meetings and voted to suspend Chalker and Slade with pay pending the outcome of the case.

"The new indictment includes charges related to a wire fraud scheme by Dr. Brown and Dr. Chalker, and it alleges that they caused the Laboratory Charter School to pay approximately $214,000 in compensation to them they were not entitled to receive," Anthony Kyriakakis, an assistant U.S. attorney prosecuting the case, said Tuesday.

He said the superseding indictment also alleges that the two obstructed justice by fabricating records and policies to make it appear they were entitled to vacation and sick benefits they were not entitled to receive.

Kyriakakis said that Chalker resigned her position at Laboratory in August 2007 and Brown resigned as its chief executive in October 2008. But they caused Laboratory to issue checks in April 2009 for the claimed benefits, he said.

Slade and Knight allegedly fabricated board resolutions for Laboratory and Ad Prima.

No arraignment date has been set on the new counts. All the defendants pleaded not guilty to the original charges.

Lawyer Robert J. Donatoni, who represents Knight, said he was scheduled to review the new charges with his client Wednesday and "move forward."

Brown's lead attorney and lawyers for the other codefendants did not return phone calls Tuesday afternoon seeking comment.

Trial is scheduled for Oct. 21 in U.S. District Court.

In addition to the three Philadelphia charter schools, Brown in 2005 also helped create the Agora Cyber Charter School in Devon, which provides online in-home instruction to students from across the state.

Brown cut her ties with Agora in 2009 as part of a settlement involving several civil suits. Now based in Wayne, Agora operates under new leadership.

After the initial indictment was unsealed in July, the Philadelphia School Reform Commission put charter renewals on hold for Laboratory and Planet Abacus.

Contact Martha Woodall at 215-854-2789 or

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