A victim of the multiyear scheme involving two former local superintendents and local virtual schools is now part of a lawsuit against the ex-school officials, as well as four others who took part in the scheme and three companies, records show.
The lawsuit was filed on the victim's behalf this week in the Circuit Court of Barbour County, where many of the scheme's victims reside, according to the suit. The scheme involved taking personal information about private school students, including their Social Security numbers and home addresses, and using it to enroll the students in public virtual schools.
The increase in enrollment was then reported to state education officials to obtain additional funding for the systems, as well as funding for the individuals and companies helping orchestrate and further the scheme. Six of the defendants in the lawsuit — former Athens City Schools Superintendent Trey Holladay, his wife Deborah Holladay, ACS Director of Planning Rick Carter, former Limestone County Schools Superintendent Tom Sisk, former Marengo Academy football coach Webb Tutt and retired educator Greg Corkren — were each indicted on federal charges related to the scheme.
Of them, Tutt, Corkren and Sisk have pleaded guilty to one count each of conspiracy to commit a wire or mail fraud. Corkren also pleaded guilty to one count of aggravated identity theft. Trial for the others is set for September.
"The six Defendants stole the identities of hundreds of students in order to wrongfully enroll them in a virtual program without their, or their parents', knowledge," the lawsuit reads. "They then funneled millions of dollars from the State of Alabama into their own pockets through a series of shell companies."
Tutt Educational Services LLC and Sage Professional Development LLC are each named in the suit as defendants and in the indictment as companies owned by Tutt and Deborah Holladay, respectively.
Another company, Integra Ventures LLC, is named in the lawsuit but not in the indictment. It is described in the lawsuit as having only one member, Keith Womack, though nonprofit Cognia lists Janet Womack, former Florence City Schools superintendent and Cognia board member, as Integra Ventures' senior vice president and consultant.
She is also described as Alabama Renaissance School's CEO. Alabama Renaissance School was meant to serve as a statewide public charter school, operating under the ACS umbrella with less state oversight, according to the indictment. Court records related to the federal case against the six individuals reference a "Company A" that would help create and manage Alabama Renaissance.
ACS board members chose the company during a special-called meeting Aug. 3, 2017, according to the indictment, and entered into a contract Oct. 1 of that year. The company would be paid up to $29,587.50 monthly and $355,050 annually, the indictment says.
The board agenda for that August 2017 meeting includes a resolution to convert "part of Athens Renaissance School into a public charter school known as the Alabama Renaissance School" and names Integra Ventures LLC as the "education service provider" for the school.
Financial records for ACS show payments to Integra Ventures starting in October 2017. The company received one payment in October for $29,587.50, then two for the same amount in November, another two in January 2018 and one per month for March, June and August. Other payments were made in March and May 2018, and all of the payments were made with state funds, financial records show.
One payment in particular — $45,000 in March 2018 — is noted in the indictment as being made to Company A after the company sent an invoice to ACS using language provided by Carter. Tutt then sent an invoice to Company A requesting $30,000.
Tutt then gave the funds to Jackson Academy, according to the indictment. This was described as a "donation" after Jackson Academy officials agreed to send a letter that made it appear as though the private school intended to close.
ACS financial records for the month of March 2018 list only one payment for $45,000 in March 2018, and that was to Integra Ventures LLC.
In total, the company received $346,857.60 from ACS before the state superintendent of education told Holladay that ACS could not start a statewide charter school, records show. The indictment says plans to form Alabama Renaissance and enroll private school students in that school were then abandoned.
'Justice for these children'
The lawsuit filed this week was done so on behalf of a Jackson Academy student, named in the complaint as "Jane Doe," by her father, "John Doe." The private school is located in Clarke County, where the family lives, but the lawsuit says the plaintiffs opted to file in Barbour County, on the other side of the state, because it's the "epicenter of this scheme."
What makes it the epicenter is not made clear in the complaint. Corkren's plea agreement notes more than 900 private school students had their information used in the scheme, and of the 10 private schools named in the indictment, only two are in or near Barbour County. They are Lakeside School and Abbeville Christian Academy.
Lakeside and Abbeville students were among those listed as victims of the wire fraud and/or aggravated identity theft charges faced by the Holladays, Carter and Corkren. Additionally, Lakeside is one of the schools with out-of-state students for whom fake addresses were generated.
As for why the Jackson Academy family is filing the suit, the complaint says there are about 94 people who had their privacy invaded and identities stolen and distributed by the defendants.
"As a result of Defendants' carefully planned scheme to prey on innocent students and to steal their identities, falsify education documents and State records, betray Alabama parents of students with lies and deception, and justify their behavior to line their own financial pockets, the individual Defendants and Defendant companies received millions of dollars," the lawsuit reads. "This lawsuit seeks justice for these children and their families."
Officials have said many of the students had no idea their information was being used for the scheme or even where Athens and Limestone County were located, and court records show very few attended any of the virtual classes that were offered to the private schools. The lawsuit lists Jane Doe as a student who "did not even realize she was enrolled in the virtual program."
It goes on to say the plaintiff has suffered mental anguish, emotion distress, physical anguish, economic harm and other harm as a result of the defendants' privacy violations, racketeering, negligence, wantonness, unjust enrichment and civil conspiracy. It asks that the court allow the lawsuit to become a class action lawsuit in which other victims of the scheme or their families can be represented as class members.