Charter CEO from Dayton pleads guilty

A Dayton man who ran charter schools here and across Ohio has pleaded guilty to parts of a scheme to allegedly steal $1.8 million from a charter school in Cleveland, according to court records.

William Peterson pleaded guilty this month to having an unlawful interest in a public contract, one of 32 charges laid out against 10 people — four from Dayton — and 13 companies involved with the Cleveland Academy for Scholarship, Technology and Leadership charter school.

As head of CASTLE, Peterson was accused of laundering and stealing $857,963 by steering it to other companies in which he had a financial interest between 2004 and 2010.

Peterson, 43, also is past CEO of four Dayton charter schools, including Arise Academy and the Colin Powell Leadership Academy. He graduated in 1988 from the University of Dayton, where he played football alongside Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted.

In the plea agreement obtained by the Dayton Daily News, Peterson agreed to pay $275,000 in restitution and cooperate in the ongoing case. He is scheduled for sentencing Dec. 13 and could face up to 18 months in prison. Other charges against him were dropped.

When contacted by the Daily News, Peterson pointed out that the amount of the plea was far lower than the nearly $1 million he was accused of stealing. But he also struck a contrite tone.

“I apologize for any pain or suffering that I’ve caused the citizens of the state of Ohio, and I’m glad this chapter of my life has come to an end,” he said.

Rolando Peterson, his brother, also pleaded guilty to aggravated theft in the case. The Shaker Heights resident also served as CEO of CASTLE for a time, and was accused of stealing $8,829, according to court filings.

Trial is still pending for others, including three from Dayton:

  • Peterson’s wife, Diana Peterson, 44, pleaded not guilty to charges including theft and money laundering. She and her husband co-owned a company that did business with the CASTLE school and was accused of stealing more than $100,000 from the school with her husband.
  • Peterson’s business partner, Dennis Stewart, 65, pleaded not guilty to laundering and stealing $367,344 from CASTLE through companies he co-owned with Peterson.
  • Dale Qualls, 51, pleaded not guilty to charges that he gave Peterson a $5,000 kickback for the purchase of a $20,000 school bus. Qualls was owner of the now-closed Qualls Auto Center on South Dixie Drive.

Four others from the school or companies it did business with from across the state have also pleaded not guilty.

Former charter school treasurer Carl Shye is awaiting transfer from a federal prison facility in Kentucky for arraignment in the Cuyahoga County court.

Shye was sentenced to more than two years in federal prison last year following an investigation by the FBI that found he stole more than $470,000 from four schools, including three in Dayton.

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