Is LA Unified the target of FBI probe, or could it be a contractor?
Michael Janofsky | December 3, 2014
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Twenty boxes of documents now in hand, the FBI is examining records from LA Unified that bear on its digital technology program.
By terms of a subpoena, the documents will go before a federal grand jury Friday morning, and evidence of criminal wrong-doing could lead to indictments.
But what exactly are investigators looking for, and is it even possible that LA Unified might not be the central focus of the probe, that it could, instead, be its partners in the iPad program, Apple and Pearson?
The subpoena, dated Nov. 21, requested “all originals and copies of all and any records” related to the district’s request for proposals for the digital device program, the Common Core Technology Project and the two companies.
Among other records requested were those relating to other companies involved in the bidding process and to district personnel involved with the bidding and review processes.
Further, the authorities wanted records related to Apple and Pearson before the bidding process, a clear indication they have interest in the emails between Apple and Pearson and former superintendent John Deasy and his deputy at the time, Jaime Aquino.
Marc S. Harris, a former deputy chief of the Public Corruption and Government Fraud section for the Central District of California, told LA School Report that one of the companies, rather that the school district, could be a focus.
“It’s conceivable,” he said.
Pearson, the world’s largest educational publisher and developer of products for the Common Core curriculum, has run afoul of the government before.
A year ago, the Pearson Charitable Foundation, the company’s nonprofit, agreed to pay almost $8 million to New York state for using “charitable assets to benefit their affiliated for-profit corporations,” the state Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman said at the time.
Brandon Pinette, a Pearson spokesman, said today in an email that in regard to LA Unified the company was “not aware of the FBI action before it happened and we have not been contacted by the FBI or anyone else in law enforcement.”
Deasy, too, said he has not be contacted by the FBI.
Andy Bowman, a spokesman for Apple, said the company declines to comment on anything that relates to LA Unified.
If the focus of the investigation is, indeed, LA Unified, Harris said evidence of wrong-doing could lead to an indictment under statutes known as “honest services fraud,” a relatively new category (since 1988) that reflects “a scheme or artifice to deprive another of the intangible right of honest services.”
The reference is to employees found with such violations as bribery, kickbacks or gratuities at the expense of a public agency.
But here’s why one of the companies cannot be ruled out as a focus of investigation: In 2013, a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C. ruled that the mere offer of a quid pro quo can lead to a conviction. That could turn the focus away from LA Unified, to one of its contractors.
Hard to know at this point. Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office involved in the case, said in an email: “Federal grand jury proceedings are secret, therefore I cannot comment any aspect of grand jury proceedings, including whether a particular matter is being investigated by a grand jury.”
Laura Eimiller, a spokeswoman for the FBI, also declined to comment.
* Adds response from Apple and the FBI.