Charter school owners settle dispute over sports tickets

June 14, 2019

PHOENIX (AP) — The operators of Phoenix-area charter schools have agreed to pay $180,000 to the state after an investigation found more than $300,000 in questionable spending.

Attorney General Mark Brnovich announced the settlement Thursday with Kristofer and Rita Sippel, owners of San Tan Montessori School Inc., the Arizona Republic reported .

The Sippels engaged in unlawful disbursements of public funds by buying tickets to professional sporting events and paying for other personal expenses, Brnovich’s office said.

They used school funds to buy about $105,000 in Arizona Cardinals tickets from 2008 to 2015, about $15,000 in Phoenix Suns tickets, and about $1,500 for Arizona Coyotes tickets, according to settlement documents.

The newspaper could not reach the Sippels for comment. They did not admit to wrongdoing in the settlement. Their nonprofit company operates San Tan Charter School in Gilbert.

Their attorney, Jim Belanger, said the state investigation was flawed, and the couple settled to avoid additional costs.

The money the Sippels spent was private funds, Belanger said.

In a statement, the school said some payments identified by the state were “erroneously paid out of charter school operator accounts.” The school was improperly advised that the payments were legal, the school said.

The school has corrected procedures and fired its bookkeeper, accountant and lawyer, it said.

The Sippels will make payments to the state over three years. As part of the settlement, the schools must retain an independent auditor.

The attorney general’s office had considered filing criminal charges against the Sippels but ran into problems because of state charter school laws, said spokesman Ryan Anderson.

“The root of this problem comes down to the state statute’s definition of public monies and specifically with charters: The moment it (state funding) hits a charter’s bank account, it’s not viewed as public money,” Anderson said.


Information from: The Arizona Republic, http://www.azcentral.com

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