Saturday, January 14, 2012

Reviewer #1 and the Smoking Gun

On Thursday Tikun Olam lead applicant Sharon Akman was quoted as saying that she did not misrepresent anyone's position. 

Yesterday I detailed that even if she is trying to claim former Edison Mayor Jun Choi and Assemblyman Peter Barnes flip-flopped on her, despite the fact that she never bothered to obtain official statements of support from them, how does she explain that Bishop Bootkoski clearly stated St. Mary's would not be available to Tikun Olam three months before she submitted her federal application for a grant?  

In his NY Times column Michael Winerip asked how federal oversight could be so lax:

And part of the answer, as Justin Hamilton, an Education Department spokesman, explained in an e-mail, is that federal officials see their oversight role as limited. The department hires private consultants to rate the quality of a charter applicant, but those consultants “cannot use information not included in the grant application,” he said.
And then today I found it.  The piece of evidence that ties it all together.  

I happened to be looking at the reviewers comments from Tikun Olam's federal application for the grant (yes, this is my idea of fun on a Saturday afternoon…) and I stumbled across this:

Lots of strengths, and NO WEAKNESSES in the applicant's response!  Reviewer #1 bought everything that Ms. Akman said in her application hook, line and sinker, even though there was no documentation to back it up, and in fact, it wasn't true.  Reviewer #1's narrative confirms that their opinion is based solely on the word of the applicant:

The applicant has also indicated that a proposed facility for the charter school is in a former Catholic school located in a mostly minority, low-income New Brunswick neighborhood.  The applicant believes this is a strong statement of the proposed charter school's commitment to ensure that an equal opportunity to attend the school is given to all. (emphasis mine)

And don't miss this part:

The Secretary encourages the applicant to describe how parents and other members of the community will be informed about the charter school, and how the students will be given an equal opportunity to attend the charter school. (emphasis mine)

So let's put these pieces together.  The federal grant application asks, on behalf of Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, how students will be given an equal opportunity to attend the charter school.  The applicant says that since the school will be in a Catholic school in a low-income minority neighborhood she believes she has this covered.  She just leaves out the inconvenient fact that the Bishop has said she can't have the facility. Reviewer #1 therefore gives this section of the application 3 out of 3 points.  Perfect score!

There must be something in place to prevent applicants from making false statements like these in order to dupe Secretary of Education into giving them hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars, right?   

Why yes there is!

Making false statements (18 U.S.C. § 1001) is the common name for the United States federal crime laid out in Section 1001 of Title 18 of the United States Code, which generally prohibits lying to or concealing (information) from afederal official by oral affirmation, written statement or mere denial. The purpose of the statute is to "punish those who render positive false statements designed to pervert or undermine functions of governmental departments andagencies".[1]   

That doesn't sound too good for Ms. Akman, does it?  Wonder if she will stick with her story that she didn't misrepresent anyone, especially since this is what sent Martha Stewart to prison.

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