Charter's former business manager pleads guilty

Dorothy June Brown founded three charter schools in Philadelphia.
Dorothy June Brown founded three charter schools in Philadelphia.
Posted: March 16, 2013

The former business manager of Dorothy June Brown's charter school network Friday admitted he had played a role in Brown's alleged scheme to defraud the schools of $6.7 million.

Anthony Smoot, 50, of New Castle, Del. appeared in US District Court this morning to plead guilty to charges that he had participated in a conspiracy to obstruct justice and had obstructed justice during portions of a four-year federal probe of charter schools Brown had founded and run in the Philadelphia area.

Smoot, who handled finances for Brown's taxpayer-funded schools for years, had not worked for any of them for more than a year.

With his guilty pleas before US District Court Judge R. Barclay Surrick, Smoot admitted fabricating, altering and backdating charter board minutes, invoices, contracts and financial records to hide the fact that Brown and her two management companies were receiving millions in taxpayer funds.

After a federal grand jury returned indictments in July and January in connection with the alleged fraud, Smoot, Brown and three co-defendants had entered not-guilty pleas.

In January, Smoot filed documents indicating he intended to change his plea and admit his role in the scheme.

Smoot faces up to 25 years in federal prison for the crimes.

Surrick agreed to the government's request to seal the agreement Smoot reached with the US Attorney's office, but he noted that the government has agreed to seek a lower prison sentence.

Assistant US Attorney Kyriakakis declined to comment, but legal observers said that language typically means a defendant has agreed to cooperate with prosecutors.

Smoot and his attorney, James McHugh, a federal public defender, also declined comment.

Surrick set sentencing for June 14.

The federal criminal trial of Brown and her three remaining co-defendants is scheduled to begin Oct. 21.

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

In addition, in 2005 Brown helped create the Agora Cyber Charter School in Devon, which provides online in-home instruction to students from across the state. Four years later, she cut her ties with Agora as part of a settlement involving several civil suits. Now based in Wayne, Agora operates under new leadership.


Contact Martha Woodall at 215-854-2789 or martha.woodall@phillynews.com

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