Two former local superintendents have been named in a federal indictment, along with one ex-superintendent's wife and three others — each with their own role in an alleged scheme to make money through inflated enrollment numbers, records show.
The scheme is said to have started in 2016 and involved giving Athens City and Limestone County school systems' the appearance of increased enrollment figures through their virtual school options, which would in turn lead to additional funding from the Alabama State Department of Education.
This funding was used in part to fund capital projects, like the new Athens High campus, as well as for car repairs and other personal uses, the indictment alleges. Named in the indictment as part of the scheme are former Athens City Schools Superintendent Trey Holladay; former Limestone County Schools Superintendent Tom Sisk; retired ACS teacher and Holladay's wife, Deborah Holladay; former Marengo Academy head football coach and Holladay's longtime friend, Webb Tutt; ACS Executive Director of Planning and former Athens High Principal Rick Carter; and retired public educator and another of Holladay's longtime friends, Greg Corkren.
The U.S. Attorney's Middle District of Alabama announced the indictment in a joint press conference with members of the FBI, the U.S. Department of Education Office of Inspector General, the ALSDE and the Alabama Attorney General's office. Each of the six defendants — Sisk, the Holladays, Tutt, Corkren and Carter — are charged with conspiring to commit mail and wire fraud.
On that charge alone, if convicted, they each face a maximum sentence of five years' imprisonment plus “substantial monetary penalties and restitution,” according to the U.S. Attorney's office. In this case, the group is said to have received several million dollars total through the scheme, which prosecutors have said will be on them to pay back.
“The money Alabama sets aside for public education should be used for exactly that — educating the students of our public schools,” said U.S. Attorney Louis Franklin. “The defendants in this case prioritized their own profits over the education needs of our students. In doing so, they stole children and parents' identities and bribed administrators of private schools.”
Along with the conspiracy charge, four of the six are charged as follows:
• Trey Holladay — 88 counts of wire fraud and 35 counts of aggravated identity theft;
• Deborah Holladay — Six counts of wire fraud;
• Carter — 86 counts of wire fraud and 34 counts of aggravated identity theft; and
• Corkren — One count of aggravated identity theft.
Each fraud conviction comes with a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, with each identity theft conviction carrying a mandatory consecutive sentence of two years.
Officials did not speak to when the investigation began or how they first learned of possible wrongdoing in the school systems. The group is believed to have used Athens Renaissance School and Limestone County Virtual School in the scheme, focused on private schools throughout the state and taken “various lengths,” including falsifying addresses and report cards, to cover their tracks, according to Franklin's office.
“The individuals named in the indictment betrayed the trust of not only our citizens but our students, parents and other teachers and administrators who continue to work diligently every day,” State Superintendent Eric Mackey said.
The Holladays released a statement Tuesday through their attorney's office in which they denied involvement and called the charges unfounded.
“We are a family of teachers and coaches,” the statement reads. “There is absolutely no way that we would do anything detrimental to the school system.”
They voiced appreciation for the “overwhelming support” from friends and the community, and said they plan to “vigorously” defend themselves against the accusations.
The News Courier will have more on the indictment, including a breakdown of how the crimes were allegedly carried out, in a future edition.