WNYC explores some of the controversies behind the activities of Gülenist schools in the tri-state area. Robert Amsterdam discussed with WNYC’s Beth Fertig how these schools provide fronts for the Gülen Movement’s money laundering:
The charter schools share characteristics, such as being run by Turkish immigrants. There are six of them in northern New Jersey and four in upstate New York. The FBI and other federal agencies are investigating charter schools in Ohio and Illinois with possible links to Gulen and a Georgia audit found found three schools engaged in bid-rigging to vendors with ties to him.
The New York charters were audited by the state comptroller in 2013. The office cited problems with their bidding processes. The audit of the Buffalo Academy of Science Charter found the school leased its building in a way that netted millions of dollars for a New Jersey company with ties to Turkey, Apple Educational Services. In the end, the company sold the building to the Buffalo charter.
The charter schools often have science themes. They enroll tens of thousands of students nationally and receive hundreds of millions of dollars in public funds.
They also share particular characteristics, according to Robert Amsterdam, an attorney who is counsel to Turkey’s government in a civil lawsuit against Gulen accusing him of human rights abuses in Turkey.
“They all have majority Turkish board members,” he said. “Number two, they only take foreign teachers from Turkey. Number three, around 75 percent of all vendors are Turkish, and normally have strong ties to Gulen.”
He said the suspicion is that school staff and related vendors pay Gulen’s movement from their salaries and business deals.
Polat said his school has hired teachers from Turkey, but only for positions in science and math which, he said, were harder to fill with American teachers. He said he currently has just one Turkish teacher, who teaches Turkish.
The other charters in Syracuse, Utica and Rochester also hired many teachers from Turkey over the years, according to documents obtained by New York State United Teachers. Spokesman Carl Korn called this a violation of visa rules.
“The visa program is supposed to be used to fill jobs that cannot be filled by American workers,” he said. “They’re filling positions for biology teachers, physical education teachers, English teachers, guidance counselors, with Turkish nationals.”
Both Korn and Amsterdam, the counsel for Turkey, said the pattern of financial problems cited in various state audits of the schools, and the federal investigation in the Midwest, prove charter schools need more oversight.