FBI arrests Atlanta charter school leader on theft, fraud, charges

The founder of a group of Atlanta-area charter schools accused of taking hundreds of thousands of dollars from the schools has been arrested.

Christopher Clemons was arrested Tuesday in the Denver area by the FBI on theft and fraud charges. Atlanta police officers will travel to Colorado to extradite Clemons, according to the FBI.

The alleged thefts affected Latin Academy, one of Atlanta Public Schools’ higher-performing middle schools, and two brand new Fulton County charter schools. They put the Atlanta charter school on the brink of closure and led to calls from state policymakers for more financial training and oversight for charter school officials.

At Latin Academy more than $600,000 was taken from school bank and credit card accounts through ATM withdrawals and to pay for dinners, non-work-related travel, bonuses to employees and “personal entertainment at local night clubs,” according to an initial police report. The school’s board discovered the missing money last summer.

And at Fulton County’s Latin Grammar School and Latin College Preparatory School, more than $350,000 was withdrawn in cash or transferred to a nonprofit created by Clemons. Cash was withdrawn from ATMs, including one with the same address as a strip club, according to bank statements The Atlanta Journal-Constitution obtained under Georgia’s Open Records Act. Officials at the Fulton charter schools discovered the missing money after learning of the problems at Latin Academy.

Clemons also borrowed hundreds of thousands of dollars in the schools’ names without the school boards’ authorization, according to legal records.

A lawyer representing the Fulton County charter schools declined to comment on the arrest.

The thefts and other management problems put Latin Academy, the Atlanta charter school, in dire financial circumstances. The school’s board cut staff salaries and other expenses and has considered closing the school.

As of last month, the school’s board was in talks with donors who might be able to provide the hundreds of thousands of dollars needed to keep the school open, board chairman Kaseem Ladipo said.

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