Jury Convicts Administrator in Charter School Trial
June 30, 2006 -- A former Valley school administrator will likely be going to prison.
Friday afternoon, a Fresno jury came back with a verdict in the trial of the administrators of a now defunct local charter school. They were accused of misusing taxpayer money.
An Action News investigation revealed the Gateway Charter School operated with little oversight, sparking a probe by the State Department of Justice.
There were three defendants in the case, and the jury treated them all differently. Two of the former Gateway administrators probably won't see any jail time at all, but jurors decided one woman was primarily responsible, and they found her guilty on a dozen serious felony charges.
The former superintendent of Gateway, Khadijah Ghafur, may have lost her freedom for a long time. A jury convicted her of misappropriation of public funds, grand theft and tax evasion.
Among many allegations, prosecutors argued Ghafur was the ringleader in a scheme to inflate attendance figures at Gateway to bring in more tax dollars.
"They really gave the charter school movement a bad name. Because of Gateway, the charter school laws changed," said prosecutor Brian Alvarez.
The jury also convicted former Gateway administrator Nazeem Hamed on one count of grand theft, but it mostly cleared Gateway's director of academic affairs and vice president Kehinde Solwazi. The Fresno City College professor only received a misdemeanor for filing a false tax return. Earlier this month, the judge threw out more serious charges against him.
"All those grand theft and all of that stuff, it was devastating to me personally, because I have lived in this community for 36 years and kept my reputation very clean. This whole trial was just a nightmare," said Solwazi.
And despite accusations the charter school was involved in teaching religion at the Muslim village of Baladullah in Tulare County, Solwazi defended its mission. "The most devastating and most unjust thing I have ever seen in this community is the destruction and the blatant racism that destroyed Gateway. I will never forget this," he said.
All three former administrators will be back in court next month for sentencing. The prosecutor says Ghafur could face a maximum of 15 years in prison.
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