Dorothy June Brown's former top deputy takes stand for the prosecution

Posted: November 21, 2013

  A former top administrator in Dorothy June Brown's charter school network said in federal court Tuesday that she fabricated bundles of documents, including several emergency loan agreements between schools that were submitted to federal investigators.

Joan Woods Chalker, 75, who had worked with Brown since 1989 and eventually became her top lieutenant, took the stand in Brown's $6.7 million fraud a month after she pleaded guilty in federal court to three counts of obstruction of justice.

"I'm to explain the situation as truthfully as I can," said Chalker, who until March was chief executive of Planet Abacus in Tacony, one of four charter schools Brown founded. Chalker also told jurors that prosecutors had promised her nothing in exchange for her guilty plea, but that she hoped her cooperation would be taken into consideration when she is sentenced next year.

As Assistant U.S. Attorney Joan E. Burnes guided her through the government's evidence, Chalker admitted she had been involved in creating phony documents for Brown, including two letters of community support for Agora Cyber Charter School and minutes and resolutions of Planet Abacus board meetings that never occurred. She also said she altered and backdated a contract between Planet Abacus and Brown's AcademicQuest L.L.C.

She had her limits, however.

Chalker said that when Brown asked her in 2009 to sign a new version of the AcademicQuest agreement that changed it from a management contract to a consulting contract, to make it appear the deal had been approved two years earlier, she balked.

"A document was presented to me, and I was asked to sign as a witness to Dr. Brown's signature," Chalker said. "I didn't want to put my name on the contract, and I said so."

Instead, Chalker agreed to sign the name of a coworker's sister while the coworker forged the signature of a late aunt.

Chalker said that in March 2010, at Brown's direction, she prepared a series of backdated "emergency-loan" agreements among the schools that Brown had founded, including a $300,000 loan between the Ad Prima and Laboratory charter schools dated July 2004.

Laboratory has campuses in Northern Liberties, Overbrook, and Wynnefield. Ad Prima has campuses in Overbrook and Frankford.

Chalker said the loans were sent to investigators in response to federal grand jury subpoenas Brown's charter school network had received.

In slightly more than an hour on the stand, Chalker also confessed that at Brown's direction she had altered and backdated a Laboratory policy to make it appear that she was entitled to receive $69,156 and Brown $144,939 for unused sick and vacation days.

Both had stepped down from posts at Laboratory in 2008 after the state law was changed to bar charter school administrators from being paid by more than one school. Chalker, who is scheduled to return to the stand on Wednesday, said she has agreed to pay back the $69,156.


martha.woodall@phillynews.com215-854-2789

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