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Kaysville man indicted for allegedly stealing $2.56M from charter schools

By Tim Vandenack - | Mar 6, 2023

Photo supplied, U.S. General Services Administration

The Orrin G. Hatch U.S. District Courthouse in Salt Lake City is pictured in an undated photo.

SALT LAKE CITY — A contractor who handled accounting for North Davis Preparatory Academy in Layton and Ascent Academies, a Lehi-based charter school system, has been indicted by a federal grand jury on 15 criminal counts for allegedly stealing $2.56 million from the institutions.

Cole Arnold, 39, of Kaysville allegedly used his accounting position with Academica West Services, which provides accounting and other related services to North Davis and Ascent, to steal the money.

The alleged fraudulent activity started in August 2017 and went on through June 2022, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Salt Lake City said in press release on Monday. Academica West officials discovered Arnold’s alleged misdeeds in June 2022, the company said in a statement, and immediately fired him.

Arnold used the money “for his own personal benefit and the personal benefit of his family, including for travel, concerts, cosmetic surgeries, home improvements, jewelry, furniture, electronics and other personal expenses,” reads the federal indictment, filed on March 1.

Arnold created more than 100 “false or fictitious invoices and computer journal entries” to steal the funds, the indictment alleges. The invoices and entries claimed fees for school supplies, teacher salaries and other “fictitious line-item expenses,” reads the press release.

The indictment alleges that Arnold false claimed expenses of $22,033.40 for cheer uniforms, $22,000 for 80 Apple iPads and $24,000 for 120 Amazon gift cards, among many other things. It also alleges that he transferred tens of thousands of dollars in North Davis and Ascent money into his CitiBank bank account.

The Academica West press release said the firm learned of Arnold’s alleged activity through an internal review. Academica West officials informed law enforcement, school officials and state education authorities of the turn of events and subsequently cooperated with the Federal Bureau of Investigation probe into the matter.

Academica West “has invested significant time and resources into strengthening our internal controls in order to prevent anything like this from happening again in the future,” says the statement.  “In addition, we have committed to make NDPA and AAU whole for any funds taken by Mr. Arnold. ”

North Davis Preparatory Academy operates an elementary school and junior high in Layton. Ascent operates K-9 schools in Farmington, Lehi, Saratoga Springs and West Jordan, according to its website, and a K-6 school in West Valley. Charter schools rely on public funding to cover operational costs, like traditional public schools.

Of the 15 charges Arnold faces, 10 are for wire fraud and five are for money laundering. His initial court appearance is scheduled for March 30 at the Orrin Hatch U.S. District Courthouse in Salt Lake City. FBI and Layton Police Department investigators helped with the investigation.


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