4 Layton Christian Academy employees fired; lawsuit alleges extensive fraud, embezzlement
LAYTON — Four high-ranking employees at Layton Christian Academy, including the head of the school and the secondary school principal, have been fired from their jobs due to alleged “financial malfeasance.”
The firings were announced Monday in a letter from the Rev. Myke Crowder, senior pastor of the Christian Life Center church in Layton, which owns LCA.
LCA is a private school of mostly international students that operates on the CLC campus.
According to multiple sources familiar with the situation, who declined to speak publicly for fear of retaliation, the Millers were escorted out of the school Monday by law enforcement.
The letter didn’t specify the “malfeasance,” but a 124-page complaint filed in Farmington’s 2nd District Court shed some light on what the church is alleging.
The suit, filed by the church on Jan. 23 and unsealed Tuesday, accuses Greg Miller, Karen Miller, Jared Miller and Lexie Miller of defrauding Layton Christian Academy, diverting money purportedly meant for LCA into their own bank accounts and scheming to use trade secrets, confidential information and international student recruiting contacts to open a new school in Florida that would cater toward international students and put LCA’s existence in jeopardy.
An early point the lawsuit makes is that the church never created a separate entity for Layton Christian and the school always has operated within the church’s business entity.
‘POTENTIALLY MULTI-MILLION DOLLAR EMBEZZLEMENT SCHEME’
According to the complaint, CLC discovered what it calls a “massive fraud and potentially multi-million dollar embezzlement scheme perpetrated by the Millers, and potentially others, since as early as 2019.”
The church seeks in excess of $2 million in damages, along with court orders prohibiting the four from using confidential information, obtained while church employees, to “unlawfully” compete against LCA. CLC is accusing the four of violating the Utah Unfair Competition Act and engaging in “deceptive trade practices.”
Greg Miller and Karen Miller, who are married, were administrators at LCA and ran day-to-day operations at the school. According to the lawsuit, Greg Miller had served as head of the school since around 1994 and was enlisted by Crowder to do so.
Jared Miller, Greg’s son, was the secondary school principal at LCA and his wife, Lexie Miller, was a student life advisor.
All four lived in homes leased by the church and, along with their jobs at the school, have acted as “house parents” and housed dozens of LCA’s international students over the years.
According to the complaint, Greg Miller submitted an $88,655.35 invoice to CLC accounting manager Karen Rosenquist in October 2022, purportedly to recoup upfront costs for starting an online education program two years earlier.
Miller had approached Crowder in 2020 about starting an online education program through LCA as a means to bring more revenue to the school and try to offset the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on LCA, according to the suit.
Miller started the program through an LLC called Venture International Academy (aka Venture Instructional Academy) and, along with the three others, eventually began diverting an unspecified amount of students’ tuition money there instead of LCA, the complaint alleges.
Crowder had never seen a business plan or approved anything related to the online program, according to the suit, and asked Miller for details.
Miller gave CLC a spreadsheet identifying online school students and tuition payments, and according to a check by church officials, some of the online students in the spreadsheet were students who were already attending the school in person or names it says were entirely made up.
Crowder then tried to talk to Miller about the issue, which the lawsuit claims turned into Miller threatening to take “his business elsewhere” if the church didn’t pay the invoice. CLC’s board of directors voted to pay the invoice.
INTERNAL INVESTIGATION FINDS ALLEGED FRAUD
At that point, the lawsuit reports, Chris Crowder, CLC’s director of operations and Myke Crowder’s son, began an internal investigation.
That investigation purportedly turned up efforts by the Millers — alleged to have started in 2019 or earlier — to buy a $4.25 million piece of real estate in Sarasota, Florida, build an international school there and use proprietary information acquired by working at LCA to open and operate the school.
The investigation reportedly turned up, among other things, business plans that were prepared by the Millers and sent to possible investors that would ostensibly help with school startup costs that the Millers estimated to be at least $15 million, from the initial purchase of the land to new buildings and operating costs to keep the school afloat early on.
An attempt to purchase the Sarasota property was unsuccessful, the lawsuit states, and in March 2021, the Millers allegedly submitted an offer to buy a 99-acre piece of land in Fruitland Park, Florida. No further details were presented to show whether such an offer was accepted.
By 2020, the Millers were diverting tuition payments from LCA to Venture Instructional Academy and into an account at Chase Bank “for their own benefit,” according to the lawsuit. The investigation reviewed multiple emails from prospective or current students asking about payments. The students were then reportedly given instructions on how to send money to the Venture account at Chase, instead of LCA’s account.
The lawsuit describes behavior in which, it claims, all four of the Millers would email each other about payments from students, which accounts the payments should go to and then use various payment processing companies including PayPal and Venmo to move money to their personal accounts.
The Millers also, according to the lawsuit, enlisted LCA teachers to help grade online work assignments and pay the teachers on a per-student basis with money that was from LCA’s payroll, money that the lawsuit says was never reimbursed by Venture or the Millers.
The suit contends that Jared Miller created a club sports program called “Eagle Elite Soccer Club” and claimed it was an LCA program, which the suit states was untrue. According to the complaint, he was reimbursed by the church for expenses related to the club, but payments associated with the club went to a Venmo account he created and the money was transferred to his personal bank account rather than to the school.
The suit also accuses Karen Miller of taking out a $30,000 loan from her 401(k), which would require a signature of someone from the church. Myke Crowder’s signature appears on the form, which is attached to suit as an exhibit, though Crowder contended he never signed that form.
The complaint contends that Layton Christian began the 2022-23 school year with a nearly $700,000 budget surplus from the previous year, a surplus that eventually became a negative checking account balance — minus $2,696.00 — as of Jan. 10, 2023.
All told, the suit accuses the Millers of fraud and embezzlement in the amount of millions of dollars, ranging from the five-figure invoice and the loan, to the diverted tuition payments, work done by LCA employees that the school says it wasn’t reimbursed for and more.
Most of the alleged dealings presented in the lawsuit are pinned on Greg Miller, but the lawsuit later states the other family members were working in concert with him.
COURT ORDERS CONTROL OF MAIN EMAIL ACCOUNT BE HANDED TO CHURCH
In the meantime, a judge has ordered that control of a church-owned “LCAEagle1” email account be handed to the plaintiffs (the church and its lawyers), that all emails on the account be preserved and that authorities may seize Greg Miller’s laptop for long enough so that the plaintiffs can take a mirror image of the laptop’s hard drive.
The email account and laptop, both of which were in Greg Miller’s control, purportedly contain all necessary and relevant business, student and financial documents, such that if he were to leave the school with the email account and laptop, it “would undoubtedly result in the immediate collapse of LCA – both financially and administratively.”
Christian Life Center’s annual operating budget is listed at $8 million, of which $6.2 million is LCA’s annual operating budget, but LCA brings in substantial revenue from tuition.
According to KSL TV, the Miller family on Tuesday appeared to be moving out of their church-leased home. Greg Miller didn’t return the Standard-Examiner’s request for comment on Tuesday.
The suit also alleges that anywhere from one to 10 additional unidentified people were working in concert with the Millers. The suit states an internal investigation by CLC is ongoing and that CLC expects to learn identities of the aforementioned people.
The letter attributed to Myke Crowder announcing the Millers’ firing also shows that Chris Crowder, Myke’s son, has been installed as the new “CEO & Head of School” for LCA and that Erinn Schrader has been named secondary school principal.
Schrader was listed on LCA’s staff directory as the English department head.
The lawsuit also took issue with Greg Miller being paid $45,000 per year to serve on the board of directors of the Association of Christian Teachers and Schools, or ACTS, an organization from which LCA holds an academic accreditation. According to the complaint, Miller submitted expense reimbursement requests to both LCA and ACTS for travel costs.
In addition to being a board member with ACTS, Greg Miller served on the 15-person Utah High School Activities Association’s board of trustees as the private school representative.
The board is the policy-making entity for the UHSAA, which governs high school sports in Utah. According to the UHSAA, Miller is no longer a member of the board.
Criminal charges haven’t been filed against either of the four Miller family members, according to court records.
Contact reporter Patrick Carr at email@example.com and on Twitter @patrickcarr_.