Former Alabama principal convicted in fake enrollment scheme

Published 9:31 pm Sunday, March 20, 2022

Jurors found a former north Alabama high school principal guilty on Friday of participating in an effort to defraud the state of education funds by falsely enrolling hundreds of private school students as full-time public school students in Athens and Limestone County between 2016 and 2018.

Former Athens High School Principal Rick Carter was one of the six people indicted in 2021. Federal officials allege former Athens Superintendent Trey Holloway and others enrolled students from a series of south Alabama private schools in Athens’ virtual school even after state officials told them to stop in 2016. Prosecutors said they were planning to use up to $10 million in extra state aid, which is based on enrollment, to help fund construction projects including a new Athens High School. Federal officials also alleged Carter and the other five conspired to steal some of the money for themselves.

Local news outlets report federal jurors found Carter guilty of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, four counts of wire fraud and two counts of aggravated identity theft after nearly four weeks of testimony.

He faces up to 20 years in prison, a mandatory consecutive two-year sentence on each case of aggravated identity theft and monetary penalties and restitution.

In April, three defendants – former Limestone County Superintendent Tom Sisk, Gregory Corkren and David Tutt — pleaded guilty to the conspiracy charge. Corkren also pleaded guilty to one count of aggravated identity theft.

In December, former Athens Superintendent Trey Holladay pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy. Charges against his wife, Deborah, were dismissed.

Sisk and Tutt will be sentenced on May 11. Holladay and Corkren will be sentenced on June 2.

Holladay, Sisk, Corkren and Tutt each face a sentence of up to five years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine. Corkren faces an additional two-year sentence and up to $250,000 fine for the aggravated identity theft charge.

Evidence shows the defendants offered the private schools computers, direct payments, and access to online curriculum to persuade them to share their students’ academic records and personal identifying information with the public school districts.

Multiple private school parents and former students testified during Carter’s trial that during the 2016-2017 and 2017-2018 school years, they had little to no connection with the public school districts in which they were supposedly enrolled. Parents continued to pay private school tuition and the students continued to attend the private schools, receiving instruction from teachers there.

Testimony showed the scheme continued after the state Department of Education warned Athens that private school students were being wrongly listed as full-time public school students in a March 2016 meeting. After that, evidence showed Carter and the others created fake report cards, manufactured false addresses for some students and falsified course completion reports to the state. When shown the fake report cards and completion reports during the trial, the parents and former students testified that they had never seen them before and did not know any of the teachers listed on them.