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Charter school official accused of buying Mercedes with state money

A $40,000 Mercedes-Benz was among the things a Columbus-area charter school operator was accused of buying after pocketing $88,750 in state money, landing her three years in prison this week.

The case is the latest in an ongoing pitched battle about charter schools that is likely to intensify with President-elect Donald Trump’s choice of staunch charter school advocate Betsy DeVos for secretary of education.

Other recent developments include the state’s largest online charter school — Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow — possibly having to repay $60 million in state funds after an attendance audit found a lack of evidence that nearly 60 percent of its students were logging in as required.

And Sen. Peggy Lehner, R-Kettering, fired back recently at allegations that her criticism of charter schools is tainted by a conflict of interest because her sister has done work for a charter school think tank pitching reforms.

The prison sentence handed down this week was for Wendy Marshall, 39, who in October pleaded guilty to personal use of state funds that were supposed to have been used to open Directions Academy in Powell. She is ordered to pay a total of $93,749 in restitution.

The school never opened, and state auditors found that Marshall bought a new car as well as airline tickets, sports equipment and other personal items.

Ohio Auditor of State Dave Yost said Marshall’s 3-year sentence “speaks to the outrageousness of this rip-off.”

“The school never opened, for heaven’s sake,” said Yost. “Taxpayers should be relieved that the money is being repaid because those dollars were earmarked for educating our children, not personal luxuries like a new Mercedes and travel.”

Yost added: “Some people mistakenly believe they can steal from taxpayers of this state and get away with it. They’re wrong.”

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