A3 charter school
District Attorney Summer Stephan discusses the indictment of several people tied to an alleged scam involving the charter school management company A3. / Image courtesy of NBC San Diego

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In the A3 charter school scam, one of the largest in history, no one will serve a single day behind bars, reports Will Huntsberry. 

Sean McManus and Jason Schrock, A3’s leaders, created a vast online charter school empire in a few short years. Nineteen online schools enrolled tens of thousands of students – some who took classes and some who did not.

The central component of the scam preyed on students in summer athletic programs. Enrollment workers would have the students sign paperwork that un-enrolled them from their regular school and into an A3 school for the summer. Those students never completed any coursework, but A3 raked in millions of dollars with the fraudulent paperwork. 

The schools brought in some $400 million in state money. McManus and Schrock managed to funnel $80 million of that money into companies they controlled. 

Read Huntsberry’s definitive account of how the scam worked from 2019 here

Initially, McManus and Schrock faced charges that carried a combined weight of up to 40 years in prison each. Eventually both pleaded guilty to two counts from the initial indictment and were sentenced to four years in prison each. 

But because both were under house arrest for the majority of the legal wranglings over the last three years, they will both get off with time served. Neither will see a prison cell. Several of the other nine defendants in the case had their felony charges reduced to misdemeanors. 

White collar criminals usually have one big bargaining chip that street criminals don’t: money. For that reason, white collar criminals often tend to get off with lighter sentences, one law professor told Huntsberry. 

But light sentences for the rich can ultimately undermine trust in the justice system, the professor said. 

Prosecutors in the A3 case managed to recover roughly $240 million in public money. 

Read about each defendant’s plea and sentence here.

A bus passes through City Heights. / Photo by Brittany Cruz-Fejeran

Boom Goes the Transit Tax 

A tax increase that regional planners were counting on to fulfill their vision for transportation in San Diego has failed before going to voters, write Scott Lewis and Andrew Keatts in the latest Politics Report. 

Supporters of the citizen’s initiative that would have raised the county’s sales tax to pay for transit, highway and road projects did not collect enough signatures to qualify for the November ballot, according to a letter from the county’s Registrar of Votes delivered to proponents Wednesday.

The measure’s premature failure means not only that the San Diego Association of Governments will be unable to pay for the transportation vision it passed just six months ago, but also voters will not be asked to approve any new revenue on the November ballot.

Read more about what happened here.

The Politics Report is available to Voice of San Diego members only. Support our work here. 

Live pods are back! Our hosts recorded at Novo Brazil Brewing Co. in Chula Vista last week. Councilwoman Andrea Cardenas was there to talk about the mayor’s race and how she separates her official business and consulting work. Steve Garcia, owner of Thr3e Punk Ales Brewing, shared insights into what residents want from their elected officials. 

More politics: U-T columnist Michael Smolens surveyed the primary and argues that while it might not have been scintillating, the results and campaign subterfuge foreshadow emerging dynamics for November.

In Other News 

The Morning Report was written by Will Huntsberry, Jesse Marx and Andrea Lopez-Villafaña.

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