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Galonski calls on Yost to recuse himself from all ECOT-related matters

Lawmaker cites Yost's conflicts of interest, calls for criminal investigation
May 2, 2018
Democrat Newsroom

State Rep. Tavia Galonski (D-Akron) today called on Ohio Auditor Dave Yost to recuse himself from all matters related to the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT) due to conflicts of interest and to refer potential data-rigging at ECOT for review by an independent criminal prosecutor.

“According to statements made by your office this week, you received a whistleblower tip in May 2017 detailing first-hand knowledge of potential criminal fraud at the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT). According to these same statements, your office did not immediately refer these allegations to a prosecutor or outside law enforcement agency,” Rep. Galonski wrote in a letter to Yost. “Your decisions may have jeopardized Ohio’s ability to get justice. Fraud investigations demand quick action to collect evidence.”

The letter came after news broke last week that Yost’s office met multiple times last year with a former ECOT technology employee who blew the whistle with allegations the e-charter intentionally manipulated student attendance data, yet Yost failed to refer the matter for criminal investigation at that time.

Since then, the letter notes, ECOT has closed, witnesses have moved to new jobs, emails, texts and documents have presumably been lost, and money has likely been shuffled to new accounts. 

“Simply put, valuable evidence has most likely been lost while you have conducted an ‘investigation’ that you should not have been directing to begin with,” Rep. Galonski wrote.

A copy of the full letter is attached and pasted below.

Mr. Dave Yost

Ohio Auditor of State 

Office of Auditor of State

88 East Broad Street, 5th Floor

Columbus, Ohio 43215

Dear Auditor Yost:

According to statements made by your office this week, you received a whistleblower tip in May 2017 detailing first-hand knowledge of potential criminal fraud at the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT). According to these same statements, your office did not immediately refer these allegations to a prosecutor or outside law enforcement agency. Instead, you made a determination to review the allegations internally and incorporate any findings into ECOT’s regularly scheduled 2016-2017 audit to be issued next week, almost a full year after you first received information about potential criminal activity. 

Your office has not publicly stated if you will be seeking a criminal referral. Of course, now that aspects of the insider information to which you have been privy for a year have been made public, any prosecutor’s office with jurisdiction, or the FBI, can commence a criminal investigation without your permission or referral.

I write today to express serious concerns about how your office has handled allegations of criminal activity at Ohio’s largest e-charter school. ECOT is a school to which you are closely and publicly tied, which is why others have repeatedly called for your formal recusal from matters involving school. Over the last decade, you have taken nearly $30,000 in political contributions from ECOT. You gave it three awards for excellent accounting. You keynoted its 2015 graduation. Your portrait once graced its walls, and the school has been a prominent issue in your campaign for Attorney General, including the fact that you cashed three checks from the school just weeks before you shut down your last investigation of its attendance.

While your spokesman this week suggested there are “no grounds” for your recusal from ECOT matters, any objective observer would agree that your position has long presented, at a bare minimum, the appearance of a conflict.

At the time you received the fraud tip, ECOT owed Ohio taxpayers $60 million. Any further allegation of fraud at the school should have been met with referral of the matter to an independent law enforcement agency. By staying on the case, your conflict has poisoned any investigation that you may have done and any conclusions you may have reached.  For this reason, I am writing to ask that you turn over to an independent law enforcement agency any records and evidence that you may have collected regarding this fraud allegation, so that the investigation can start over.

Your decisions may have jeopardized Ohio’s ability to get justice. Fraud investigations demand quick action to collect evidence. While you have ignored your conflict and quietly overseen an investigation that has stretched a year, ECOT has closed, witnesses have moved to new jobs, emails, texts and documents have presumably been lost, and money has likely been shuffled to new accounts. Simply put, valuable evidence has most likely been lost while you have conducted an “investigation” that you should not have been directing to begin with. 

In closing, I want to once again express my disappointment with how you have handled this matter. Had you heeded calls to recuse yourself from ECOT years ago, Ohio would stand in a much stronger place. Instead, this incident only serves as more evidence that Ohio’s political system is broken, and that its watchdogs only watch out for themselves. That said, your immediate recusal and referral to an actual prosecutor can be a step toward fixing the system. It is my hope that you will take it on behalf of the people we serve.

Sincerely,

Rep. Tavia Galonski

Ohio House District 35