The former principal of the now-shuttered Bradley Academy of Excellence in Goodyear, also known as Discovery Creemos Academy, was sentenced to 3.75 years in prison on Monday after pleading guilty to engaging in a $2.5 million enrollment-inflation scheme.
State prosecutors say 56-year-old Harold Cadiz was sentenced for his role in enrolling fake students to obtain funding from the Arizona Department of Education, the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Cadiz, though, placed much of the blame on two co-defendants who also face prison sentences in the fraud case.
Former Vice Principal Joann Vega is facing 8.75 years behind bars. She is slated to be sentenced Sept. 23, while Daniel Hughes, former president and CEO of the charter school, is set to be sentenced Nov. 16.
“I’m tremendously sorry,” Cadiz said. “The state is so short-funded for kids, and for this to happen is appalling … The state has suffered because of my involvement. I knew it was wrong.”
Cadiz, who has a high school education, would go on to state that he was “dragged” into the scheme. Charter schools, unlike traditional school districts, do not require advanced degrees for those running publicly funded, privately operated campuses.
Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Jay Ryan Adleman also placed Cadiz on five years of probation following his release from prison. Furthermore, Cadiz, Vega, and Hughes must repay $2.5 million.
The state Attorney General’s office had pushed for a sentence as long as 12½ years with up to 7 years of probation, but the judge noted that Cadiz was not rewarded from the scheme, other than keeping his job at the charter school. Despite Adelman’s conclusion, Cadiz will spend nearly four years behind bars.
Two sheriff’s deputies took Cadiz into custody immediately after the 30-minute hearing in downtown Phoenix.
Cadiz is the first academy executive to face prison time.
Prosecutors said Cadiz reported hundreds of fake student profiles to the state education department to fraudulently obtain additional funding for the faltering school. After the academy abruptly closed in January 2018 prior to an audit by the Arizona Department of Education, investigators found the school included 191 fake students in its reported enrollment of 652 in the 2016-17 school year and 453 fake students in its reported enrollment of 528 in 2017-18.
This resulted in overpayments of roughly $2.2 million by the State Department of Education, more than $91,000 by the federal Department of Education, and nearly $231,000 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
But the Arizona State Board for Charter Schools, which is responsible for regulating the state’s 500-plus charter schools, has been the subject of criticism. In June 2017, the board agreed unanimously to allow the academy to continue operations for 20 more years, despite the school receiving an F letter grade by the Arizona State Board of Education.