Agents raid 2 Phila. charter schools

KENSINGTON - August 26, 2009 At the Community Academy Charter School, the city's first charter school opening back in 1997, its entire future and the fate of its 1,200 students are in doubt.

Teachers and administrators had reported to work this morning, and moments later, federal agents descended on the school.

They spent the day rifling through financial records and then carting off box after box of evidence, all loaded into the back of a rental truck.

It was a similar scene at Fairhill Community High School in North Philadelphia.

Both schools are run by an organization known as One Bright Way, founded by Joseph Proietta, who spoke exclusively to Action News on Wednesday night.

"We've never been there to do anything or to harm anyone or to take anything that we didn't deserve, and I'm really shocked," CEO of One Brightway, Joseph Proietta said.

Proietta says he was just as surprised as anyone when a small army of federal agents descended on the Community Academy Charter School and Fairhill Community High School.

In the exclusive interview with Action News, Proietta says he has no idea what the agents were looking for.

"I asked them when they were there, and they wouldn't tell me, and even on the warrant that they gave me, it had nothing listed on there as to what was the reason," Proietta said.

Proietta does concede he was notified by the Philadelphia School District two weeks ago that the feds would be coming by to pick up documents, but he had no idea they were conducting raids.

"I've always had a great relationship with the School District and I always thought that if they had a problem that they'd be honest with me and they'd say, 'Hey, this is a problem,'" Proietta said.

The schools are among five Philadelphia area charter schools that are part of a widening federal investigation into allegations of misspending public funds. While the feds had no comment, the state auditor general had complained that many charter schools have lack of controls or, for that matter, any oversight.

"I think we do a really good job, I think we've done a lot for the community and I haven't heard any complaints about that…I'm confident when everything is said and done that there is not going to be found anything [sic], any wrongdoing," Proietta said.

Earlier in the day, the school sent a message to Action News saying they were notified by the School District of Philadelphia two weeks ago that their records would be inspected, as stated above, and they went to say,"We were surprised by the unnecessary appearance of the FBI agents to retrieve those same records that were awaiting inspection." They continued, "We expect to cooperate with the authorities and to be exonerated of any potential allegations of wrongdoing."

Typically, the search and removal of evidence is just the beginning of a process which may or may not lead to criminal charges. The raids on the eve of a new school year with the removal of so many files, do, however, bring into question the schools ability to function.

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