Dr. José F. Moreno, who took No. 28 on the Weekly‘s 2012 compilation of Orange County’s Scariest People for trying to get Chapman University to rescind a speaking invitation to our Mexican-in-Chief, is demanding a state investigation of a Westminster-based charter school operator that is said to have links to a reclusive Muslim cleric who has been labeled a terrorist in his native Turkey.
“A formal complaint has been issued under the California Uniform Complaint Procedure (“UCP”) urging the California Department of Education to conduct a full investigation into the financial practices of the Magnolia Public Schools charter school network, which currently operates 11 active charter schools in California,” reads a statement from the international law firm Amsterdam & Partners LLP, whose clients include the Republic of Turkey.
The firm notes the complaint was brought “in conjunction with interested California taxpayers” Moreno—a former Anaheim City School District board member and chair of Chicano and Latino Studies at Long Beach State—and Tina Andres, a teacher in the Santa Ana Unified School District and mother of a student attending school in Santa Ana, home of the only Magnolia charter school in Orange County, Magnolia Science Academy Santa Ana.
According to their complaint, a 2015 California State Auditor audit “discovered widespread accounting impropriety and raised numerous other important questions about Magnolia’s financial practices,” including a connection between the charter school network and Fethullah Gülen, who resides in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania, because he receives medical treatment in the United States.
But as Amsterdam & Partners LLP founding partner Robert Amsterdam discloses, the link is not actually a direct one between Magnolia and Gülen but Magnolia and the Pacifica Institute, an Irvine nonprofit dedicated to social justice, interfaith connections and relationship building in the western United States.
“Although Magnolia’s CEO and superintendent insists that there is no connection between Magnolia and the Gülen Organization, we respectfully direct the California authorities to Magnolia’s financial ties to the Pacifica Institute in Irvine, and to the similarities between Magnolia’s operating profile and that of other known Gülen Organization charter schools,” Amsterdam says.
Gülen is claimed to have millions of followers who consider the 74-year-old to be an enlightened, pro-Western face of modern Islam. He has met a pope, statesmen and even Israeli leaders. His popularity has extended to Turkey, where private prep schools run and financed by the Gülen movement have flourished.
Because Gülen supporters can now be found in Turkey’s police, judiciary, media, political parties and central bank, he is viewed as a threat to the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Gülen has been accused of seeking to overthrow the government in an effort to install an Islamic state (ironic, given Erdogan’s own push to bring back Turkey to its Ottoman Empire might), and Erdogan supporters are now trying to close the movement’s schools. The push back has worked in places like NorCal’s Fremont, where a charter school tied to the Gülen movement recently closed.
And so the targeting of Magnolia now moves south.
“The State Auditor was unable to verify the propriety of a staggering 69 percent of financial transactions from a sampling at the Magnolia schools, but it did identify large contracts from Magnolia to affiliated vendors, and revealed that Magnolia has improperly spent hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars on immigration lawyers to import teachers from Turkey,” Amsterdam alleges.
“Magnolia’s misuse of public funds is intolerable,” adds Anders. “They use our tax dollars to pay for visas to hire Turkish teachers, while there are plenty of talented and highly qualified teachers looking for positions in our area.”
Moreno, who is president of the community group Los Amigos of Orange County—and one who is believed to be eyeing an Anaheim City Council seat—has four children attending schools in Anaheim, where Magnolia is seeking to expand, according to Amsterdam.
All told, Magnolia has submitted multiple new charter school applications valued at more than $48 million each, something “the State of California owes a fiduciary duty to California taxpayers to probe further,” according to the complainers.
They say they delivered their complaint to the California Department of Education and “various stakeholders concerned about the issue.” It is available for viewing at MagnoliaComplaint.com, where supporters are invited to sign a petition urging a California Department of Education investigation.