GovWatch: Laws allow felons to serve on charter school boards

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GovWatch: Laws allow felons to serve on charter school boards

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Ohio Auditor Dave Yost says state law should ban convicted felons from serving on charter school boards — and should require charter boardmembers to file ethics disclosure forms — after his office found former felons serving on boards in Columbus and Cleveland.

Yost says a routine audit found that Michael Davie, former boardmember at the Lion of Judah Academy in Cleveland, was convicted in 1993 of charges including attempted murder, felonious assault and aggravated robbery after he and two other men severely beat an elderly man and woman — burning her with boiling water and dropping a television on her head — while burglarizing an Akron apartment complex.

Another audit found Jerry Pierce, a boardmember at the Notten STEM school in Columbus, had multiple convictions including breaking and entering, forgery and receiving stolen property in the 1980s.

State law prevents such convicted felons from serving on traditional school boards, city councils, county commissions and other offices of “honor, trust or profit.” But the law does not include charter school boardmembers.

“There’s a hole in the law that’s large enough for the Cleveland Browns to run through,” Yost said in an interview Monday. “These are positions of trust. There’s nothing more important than educating our kids, and the idea that we’re going to have a convicted felon who can be part of the governing board, just seems to be off.”

Yost called for changes to state law in a Jan. 29 letter to state Sen. Peggy Lehner, R-Kettering, chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee. In addition to including charter school boards as positions of “honor, trust or profit,” the letter recommends requiring charter school board members to file ethics disclosure forms with the Ohio Ethics Commission.

The I-Team reported in 2013 that 12 percent of all Ethics Commission complaints had to do with charter schools, whose boards are not required to fill out ethics forms disclosing their personal business interests. The same is true of township trustees, which account for another 12 percent of ethics cases.

The number of ethics commission investigations of charters dropped from 22 in 2013 to six in 2014, accounting for only 4 percent of the investigations last year.

TurboTax halts state filings amid fraud

TurboTax, the country’s most popular do-it-yourself tax preparation software, halted processing state tax returns for about 24 hours last week because of a spike in fraudulent filings.

Intuit, the company behind TurboTax, said it resumed filing of state returns at about 6 p.m. Friday with increased anti-fraud measures, a day after halting the process when state agencies reported a rise in filings with stolen personal information.

Most victims found out that a fraudulent tax return was submitted in their name when they received a rejection notice after filing their returns, said Intuit spokeswoman Julie Miller.

There haven’t been issues with federal returns to date because the Internal Revenue Service has implemented stronger fraud detection policies, Miller said.

It’s unclear whether some of the suspicious filings were from Ohio. But the I-Team recently reported that Ohio state tax returns will be slowed for most taxpayers — and some will have to take an online quiz proving who they are — as the state works to beat back exploding identity theft-related tax fraud, which ballooned to a quarter-billion dollar problem for the state in 2014.

IRS rehired problem workers

The IRS re-hired hundreds of former employees with performance or conduct issues from January 2010 to September 2013, according to a new report from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration.

TIGTA noted that the IRS hired tens of thousands of people over those years, including 7,000 former employees, mostly temporary or seasonal workers. Hundreds of them, inspectors found, had substantiated conduct or performance issues.

This includes 141 who had prior tax issues, five of whom “had willfully failed to file their federal tax returns,” the report says.

“Other substantiated issues from previous IRS employment included unauthorized access to taxpayer information, leave abuse, falsification of official forms, unacceptable performance, misuse of IRS property and off-duty misconduct.”

Nearly 20 percent of these employees racked up new conduct or performance issues after they were re-hired.

IRS officials said their hiring process is sufficient to protect taxpayers, the report said, but “TIGTA remains concerned because IRS records indicate it is hiring individuals with significant prior conduct and performance issues.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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