Tutors Tell Tales Out Of School

June 6, 2013

Some kids in public schools seem to have two strikes against them before even stepping up to bat: One, they can't keep up with the basic curriculum and need after-school help; and, two, they are further saddled with attending an under-performing school.  So, not only are these kids in danger of failing out of school and falling into society's cracks, but the very place where they should be getting educational help is unable to keep pace with its obligations and is, itself, in danger of failing.

Tutoring

During 2005 through 2012, the New York City Department of Education ("NYCDOE") received funds from the federal government to pay for New York City's Supplemental Educational Services program ("SES"), which included after-school tutoring and other remedial and supplemental academic enrichment services for students attending under-performing public schools.  In an effort to help these kids, NYCDOE entered into contracts with private entities and organizations to provide SES tutoring. 

In order to get paid, the service providers had to certify to NYCDOE that their attendance records were "true and accurate," and towards that goal, the providers were required to have
  • each student who attended a class sign a standard attendance form; and
  • each tutor was also required to sign the form as an attestation and confirmation of services rendered. 
TestQuest

From 2005 through 2012, TestQuest contracted with the NYCDOE to provide SES tutoring to students at their homes and group tutoring at various New York City public schools, including the Monroe Academy of Business and Law/High School of World Cultures ("Monroe") and the Global Enterprise Academy/Christopher Columbus High School ("Columbus"). Among the tens of millions in dollars in federal funding that TestQuest received, more than $2.3 million was for purported tutoring at Monroe and Columbus alone.

Logan's Bluff

Michael Logan, 48, White Plains, NY, was a:
  • TestQuest employee responsible for managing its SES tutoring program at Monroe and later at Columbus.
  • long-term substitute teacher and computer technician at Monroe; and
  • a sometimes  baseball team coach at Monroe. 
Federal prosecutors alleged that Logan instructed TestQuest employees to forge student signatures on attendance forms and to have students sign attendance forms for tutoring classes they had not attended. On some occasions, Logan caused TestQuest employees to fraudulently obtain signatures from students assembled in the school cafeteria or participating in after school activities such as baseball or basketball practice. Logan told one employee, "if you can't find the students, sign them in," and "make them sign or you won't get paid." 

Whistleblowers

Two TestQuest tutors blew the whistle on firm's fraudulent billing practices at Monroe and Columbus.  Those tutors subsequently filed a qui tam lawsuit in the Southern District of New York in which they alleged that TestQuest employees had engaged in fraud in connection with tutoring activities. Despite receiving regular bi-weekly paychecks of $700 to $1,200 for tutoring, one of the informant tutors never tutored a single student and at times when he was supposed to be tutoring, he was actually coaching basketball or baseball at Monroe.

In a taped telephone conversation between one of the informant tutors and Logan, the Criminal Complaint sets forth this exchange:

Tutor-1: So - all right so - so what you want me to do? What do I tell the cops when they come again? 'Cause they say they gonna come again and I - trust me -

Logan: Okay.

Tutor-1: -- if you know -you know and I know that not very many people know where I am. So if they can find me once, thaey cand find me again. So when they come again, I wanna know exactly what to tell them.

Logan: But I'm just sayin', I tell you, tell 'em that you taught the class.

Tutor-1: And - but you know I didn't taught - teach those classes though.

Logan: Okay me and you know that . . .

Tutor-1: Okay

Logan: Me and you know that.

Criminal Charges

Prosecutors charged that as a result of Logan's conduct, TestQuest employees repeatedly submitted bills to NYCDOE for tutoring that never occurred and for which TestQuest was paid substantial sums of money. Logan was charged with one count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States and the U.S. Department of Education, and faces a maximum sentence of 25 years in prison. 

Civil Charges

Additionally, a Civil Complaint was filed by the federal government (in which it joined the private whistleblower lawsuit that had previously been filed against TestQuest under the False Claims Act).

Guilty Plea

On June 5, 2013, Logan pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States and the U.S. Department of Education, and faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison at his October 2013 sentencing. NOTE: Separate civil charges in a Civil Complaint against Logan and TestQuest remain pending and the defendants are presumed innocent in that matter unless and until proven guilty in a court of law.

Bill Singer's Comment

Yet another credible prosecution from the offices of Preet Bharara, United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York.  A worthwhile use of both taxpayer dollars and prosecutorial resources! Bharara hit the nail on the head when he noted that:

The federal government devotes important resources to a program intended to benefit students in need, and not intended to be manipulated by people like Michael Logan for their own benefit. To make matters worse, rather than focusing on the instruction of children, Logan focused on instructing witnesses to lie. With his guilty plea today, he will now face the consequences of his shameful exploitation of this vitally important program.

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