Saturday, July 10, 2010

Charter School Operators in California Appear in Court on Embezzlement Case

The operators of a charter campus in the San Fernando Valley made their first court appearance today on charges of embezzling more than $200,000 in school funds.Yevgeny "Eugene" Selivanov, 38, and his wife, Tatyana Berkovich, 32, who run Ivy Academia charter school, are accused of taking the money between 2004 and 2009.They are charged with five felony counts of misappropriation of public funds, embezzlement by a public or private officer and filing a false tax return, along with a misdemeanor count of failing to file a statement of their economic interests for 2008, according to the criminal complaint.Selivanov is additionally charged with six counts of misappropriation of public funds, embezzlement by a public or private officer, money laundering and filing a false tax return, while Berkovich is also charged with a misdemeanor count of conflict of interest.If convicted as charged, Selivanov faces a possible maximum prison term of 14 years and two months, while his wife faces up to nine years behind bars, according to the District Attorney's Office.
The Tarzana couple started the school in 2004. Ivy Academia has four campuses, in Woodland Hills, West Hills, Winnetka and Chatsworth, and bills itself on its website as "one of the highest performing charter schools in California."The couple also own a private "for public" preschool, Academy Just for Kids, which shares a campus with the charter school, according to the District Attorney's Office.The complaint against them alleges that a school district auditor "identified several areas which appeared to involve commingling of public with private funds and failure to accurately report financial transactions in the school's accounting records."Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Hilleri G. Merritt ruled that the two will be allowed to remain free on their own recognizance on the condition that they make arrangements to be booked by June 18. They are scheduled to be arraigned July 19 at the downtown Los Angeles courthouse.The judge also ordered the couple not to use any Ivy Academia charter school or support funds or credit cards for personal use, including groceries, restaurant meals, gifts and clothing, and not to open any new bank accounts, credit cards or credit lines on behalf of the school."We expect that they will be fully exonerated in this matter and be able to continue to serve the students," defense attorney Janet I. Levine said outside court.In a statement released after the couple were charged Thursday, Levine said they are "educators and innovators, and are confident that any fair and complete review of the facts will show they acted honorably, ethically and legally in administering Ivy."In a letter sent to Ivy Academia parents, the school noted that the charges "will in no way interrupt Ivy's day-to-day operations" and that Selivanov and Berkovich will "continue to work at the school."The Los Angeles Unified School District's Office of the Inspector General began an audit of Ivy Academia charter school in June 2006 as one of several charter schools to be audited.The case was referred to the district's Office of Investigations in August 2006, then to the District Attorney's Public Integrity Division in May 2008. The state Franchise Tax Board also investigated the case. Charter schools are operated with public funds.

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