By Hakan Copur
A chain of Texas charter schools linked to the movement of U.S.-based Turkish preacher Fetullah Gulen is being accused of fraud and financial malfeasance worth over $18 million.
Amsterdam & Partners, a law firm investigating the movement's activities, has filed a fraud complaint with the Texas Education Agency, the firm said in a statement late Monday.
The complaint accuses the public-funded school chain and another company, disguised as independent but in fact linked to Harmony, of a complicated shell game in which Harmony seemed to contract the other company, but for the purposes of misappropriating funds rather than performing any actual services.
Ankara has pressed the U.S. to extradite Gulen to stand trial for crimes committed in Turkey.
According to the website of the law firm’s founding partner Robert Amsterdam, Gulen "controls some 150 U.S. charter schools through opaque fronts … Gulen-affiliated Harmony Public Schools has been found to be allegedly engaging [in] widespread abuse of the H1B visa program, misappropriation of public funds, and discrimination against certain students and families."
According to the complaint, Harmony -- which is financed by over $250 million in U.S. federal and state tax money annually -- contracted a firm called Charter School Solutions (CSS) for $44 million to manage its buildings and properties.
But the complaint alleges that CSS, far from being an independent company, was actually managed by a Harmony employee.
"For the purpose of new buildings to be rented by Harmony schools, an additional $18.4 million was paid to CSS," said the law firm’s statement, calling the financial malfeasance “shocking”.
Amsterdam & Partners filed a formal complaint in late May against Harmony urging the Texas Education Agency to conduct a full investigation based on documented abuses suggesting a widespread pattern of fraud, discrimination, and abuse in the Harmony network.
According to the law firm, Harmony operates seven charter school districts serving 46 charter campuses in Texas and has links to the "Hizmet movement", led by Gulen, who is also believed to be responsible for the parallel state in Turkey.
Described as the “parallel state”, the Gulenist Terror Organization/Parallel State Structure (FETO/PDY) is said to be behind the December 2013 corruption investigation into senior Turkish government officials.
The FETO/PDY is headed by Gulen, who runs a network of schools and commercial enterprises in Turkey and around the world, including Harmony in Texas.
Gulen is also the main suspect in the December 2013 investigation of mass wiretapping which targeted more than 7,000 people.
The Pennsylvania-based preacher is accused of forming the Gulenist Terror Organization with the aim of overthrowing the government through supporters who infiltrated the judiciary, police, and civil service in a bid to take control of the Turkish state.
Last October, an Istanbul court issued an arrest warrant for Gulen after approving a 1,453-page indictment charging him with "attempting to overthrow the government of the Republic of Turkey or obstructing it from conducting its duties by force".
Gulen is also accused of "establishing and masterminding an armed terrorist organization" and "obtaining state information -- which needs to be kept secret for the security of the state and its domestic and foreign benefits -- to be used for political espionage."
Since early 2014, investigations into the parallel state have seen hundreds of civil servants, including police and public prosecutors, arrested or reassigned.
*Anadolu Agency's Satuk Bugra Kutlugun contributed to this report from Ankara.