Editor’s Note: Theses charges were first reported in June of 2022, which is outside of the normal school year. As a result this story is just now being published. It was researched and written by ENN student journalist Priscella Rodriguez. Due to the nature of the allegations, current ENN instructors were not involved in directing the writing or editing of the story’s content. Instead, an outside journalism adviser with no employment or financial interest in Epic Charter Schools provided editorial oversight for this story.
Epic co-founders Harris, Chaney and former CFO Brock were arrested and charged with wrongfully taking millions of taxpayer dollars from the state.
The three former Epic executives were arrested by the OSBI 10 a.m. June 23, 2022, and were booked into the Oklahoma County Jail. A bond was set for $250,000 for Harris, Chaney and Brock. They were bonded out hours after arrest.
According to a statement from the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, Chaney, Harris and Brock got rich off of taxpayer dollars that were meant for the school.
The three former Epic executives were charged with racketeering, embezzlement of state funds, obtaining money by false pretense, conspiracy to commit a felony, violation of the Oklahoma Computer Crimes Act, submitting false documents to the state and unlawful proceeds.
OSBI officials said they started their investigation into Epic in 2013 after a dual enrollment complaint from the State Department of Education. In 2019, a second request to investigate Epic came in regards to the misappropriation of state funds given to Epic blended learning centers. The OSBI investigation into Epic has been on going for nine years.
According to OSBI documents, Chaney, Harris and Brock used the learning fund money on personal credit cards. They took money from the account and added it to their private companies general fund.
Epic was founded in 2011 by Chaney and Harris, who had also established Epic Youth Services, which was a private company. Epic Youth Services operated the school system and also earned 10% of the yearly educational funding. Brock was the chief financial officer for the school system and the company.
This 10% management fee had generated $69 million to Epic Youth Services. Harris received $24.8 million, Chaney received more than $23.2 million and Brock received $7.1 million, according to the OSBI affidavit.
Chaney, Harris and Brock managed all aspects of the school including the bank accounts. Epic school employees did not have access to bank accounts, according to the OSBI affidavit.
Investigators said Chaney, Harris and Brock took millions of dollars in taxpayer money that came from the student learning fund, which was paid for by the state. This money was intended for students but was spent on personal expenses and political contributions.
Chaney and Harris used their financial and political resources to influence the re-election of State Senator Ron Sharp. Harris made payments from his personal bank account to an opposition research company known as Cannon Research Group (CANNON). CANNON produced negative campaign mailers regarding SHARP during the 2020 election period, according to the OSBI affidavit.
The student learning fund pays for the technology and student lesson plans. The student learning fund is paid for with taxpayers dollars meant for the school, with each student receiving $800-1,000.
Chaney and Harris had also encouraged school employees to enroll students in Epic who already attended private schools or were homeschooled. Teachers were given pay bonuses for each student they recruited, and families were given a bonus credited to their Student Learning Fund account for each student they recruited. The more students that were recruited the more money Chaney and Harris made, according to the OSBI affidavit.
According to investigators, these students received little to no education from Epic. They only increased the headcount used to determine the schools funding. These students are called “ghost students.”
According to a statement from OSBI press release Epic Charter Schools, Epic Youth Services and the student learning fund formed a complicated criminal enterprise that cost the state more than $22 million in taxpayers funds.
Epic has severed all ties with Chaney, Harris, Brock and their business in May 2021.
(-I reached out to Epic for an official statement, but said they had no comment.-)
(-I reached out to both attorneys for an official statement, but both said they had no comments.-)