The Republic of Turkey filed a 12-page supplement to a previously submitted complaint against the Houston-based Harmony Public Schools, a charter chain allegedly tied to exiled Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen. It accuses Harmony of fraud and financial wrongdoing with $18 million worth of Texas taxpayer funds.
The supplemental complaint was filed with the Texas Education Agency (TEA) on July 6 and introduced “new information regarding concerns and irregularities in Harmony’s leasing, financing, and bond arrangements for new facilities,” including a purportedly suspect relationship between the charter chain and another company, Charter Schools Solutions (CSS).
Amsterdam & Partners, LLC, the law firm representing the Turkish government, asserted CSS was not a separate company but Harmony’s “real estate arm” and part of a shell game to misappropriate funds rather than perform any actual services.
The complaint stated Harmony created CSS and then contracted with them using monies from a $44 million taxpayer funded bond that also financed the development and construction of six new Texas charter school properties “followed by a lease-back of the facility to Harmony at inflated rental amounts.” Harmony agreed to purposefully overpay CSS on the leases for each of these properties, resulting in $18.4 million of those taxpayer dollars going into the pockets of CSS over the term of the bond. The supplement stated: “Furthermore, the additional $18.4 million is slated to fund CSS’s operations and student scholarships by way of grants to charter schools.”
The complaint estimated the $44 million bond, with interest, will cost Texas taxpayers over $100 million.
It also posited managerial conflicts-of-interest, noting Robert A. Schulman, Harmony’s appointed director and general legal counsel, serves as CSS Board president. The brief questioned the “close and concerning ties” to Gülen-affiliated Turkish cultural organizations of leadership officials Gokturk Tunc, a Riverwalk appointed director, and Bilal Erturk, the permanent CSS director, the latter also associated with a related Oklahoma charter network currently under investigation for misuse of state funds.
Attorney Robert Amsterdam, founding partner of the eponymous law firm representing the Turkish government, said last week: “At a time of when the people of Texas want more money invested in public education, it’s troubling to learn that $18 million is being misappropriated by Harmony and Charter School Solutions.”
Amsterdam urged the TEA to conduct a comprehensive investigation into Harmony’s alleged illegal activities.
Harmony operates 46 public charter schools in Texas, serving 30,500 students. It is the largest public charter system in the Lone Star State and the second largest charter network nationwide. The open enrollment charter schools are funded by more than $250 million state and federal taxpayer dollars annually. They are eligible for certain grants and various federal funds, the free and reduced breakfast and national school lunch programs. As public school charters, they must follow the state’s education standards, the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS).
In May, Breitbart Texas reported Amsterdam & Partners, LLC, filed its original 32-page complaint against Harmony’s governing board and charter holder, the Cosmos Foundation. It insisted the TEA investigate the public charter chain over its practices and affiliations, alleging misuse of the H-1B program, and discriminatory employment practices such as preferential hiring of Turkish nationals and male teachers. It raised questions about their vendor bidding practices and the funneling money to the Gülen Organization, which Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan accused of trying to overthrow the government.
Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen is considered to be a powerful and determined opponent of the Erdoğan. Attorney Robert Amsterdam previously described Gülen as “a reclusive but influential Imam living under self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania to avoid criminal prosecution in his native Turkey.” Harmony officials continue to insist they have no connection to Gülen.
The Turkish government retained Amsterdam & Partners in October 2015 to conduct a global investigation into the alleged “activities of the organization led by Gülen.” The TEA received their original complaint on May 24. Agency spokeswoman Debbie Ratcliffe told Breitbart Texas, “We are reviewing both submissions.”
Follow Merrill Hope, a member of the original Breitbart Texas team, on Twitter @OutOfTheBoxMom.