(Update: In May 2023, new Oklahoma County District Attorney Vicki Behenna amended the criminal information filed against former Seeworth Academy Superintendent Janet Grigg to dismiss the fourth charge — concealing stolen property — which was filed with an “or in the alternative” designation. The following article remains in its original form.)
Late this afternoon, Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater filed three counts of felony embezzlement against Janet Grigg, the former superintendent of the shuttered Justice Alma Wilson Seeworth Academy, who was accused in a state audit of misappropriating more than $250,000.
Prater called his investigation into the matter “ongoing,” alluding to allegations that prominent former board members of the charter school may have broken the law by spending more than $135,000 after the school had closed.
“The investigation is ongoing to determine if others have criminal liability in this alleged theft of money that was intended to help educate some of our most vulnerable children,” Prater said in a statement to NonDoc.
Grigg, who served as the charter school’s superintendent for two decades, was charged with three felonies:
- Embezzlement of public money;
- Embezzlement of public property;
- Embezzlement of public property, or in the alternative, concealing stolen property.
In the charging document (embedded below), Prater and his investigators allege that Grigg embezzled funds and property from Seeworth Academy between 2014 and 2020, including school computers and a 2017 GMC Yukon. Grigg also allegedly paid herself thousands of dollars out of money approved by the board for staff bonuses.
“A detailed example of Grigg taking money from staff bonuses occurred in 2014 when the board allocated $12,125 for staff bonuses but Grigg paid herself $7,000 of that amount (57 percent) leaving the rest for the staff,” wrote investigator Phillips Hall in the probable cause affidavit.
Longtime school employees and board members have accused Grigg of gambling heavily at local casinos and misusing funds from the charter school’s “corporate account,” which was maintained separately from the school’s audited account.
“Grigg used this ‘corporate account’ as a personal spending account utilizing a debit card and checks as a means of purchasing goods, services and writing herself checks on the account to include withdrawing cash from ATM’s at local casinos totaling more than $4,500 and spending over $9,950 on purchases from home shopping retailers (i.e. QVC, HSN) over a period of several years,” Hall wrote.
Investigators found computers and official documents belonging to the school, including financial and personnel records, at Grigg’s residence in March, according to the probable cause affidavit.
“I executed a search warrant at Grigg’s residence located in Oklahoma City after receiving information about possible stolen Seeworth Academy computers and official documents that likely would be located there,” Hall wrote. “Statements obtained from Grigg’s co- workers indicated that Grigg likely kept and/or destroyed Seeworth Academy documents, had stolen multiple computers and concealed property belonging to Seeworth Academy and/or Oklahoma City Public Schools (OKCPS) at her residence.”
OKCPS had been Seeworth Academy’s charter authorizer until State Department of Education concerns and other allegations led the Seeworth board to relinquish its charter suddenly in the summer of 2019.
“I observed several documents of interest located on their ‘desktop’ locations that had gone missing or were otherwise destroyed when they were paper copies per the State Auditor findings and through interviews,” Hall wrote. “This observation led me to believe that electronic copies of otherwise missing/destroyed documents were maintained on these computers, specifically a desktop computer used by Grigg in her office that was seized.”
Founded in 1998, the Justice Alma Wilson Seeworth Academy was an alternative school in Oklahoma City meant to serve at-risk youth who had been affected by the criminal justice system.
Grigg’s attorney, Scott Adams, provided a statement to News 9 on Thursday.
“There’s a lot more to this story,” Adams said. “We’re looking forward to our day in court.”
Prominent board members listed as witnesses
The charges filed Tuesday against Grigg advance the long saga of mismanagement and embezzlement allegations surrounding Grigg and other officials involved with the Oklahoma City alternative school, which closed on June 30, 2019.
State Auditor and Inspector Cindy Byrd’s report and a variety of documents indicate that Seeworth Academy’s longtime board members had been alerted to allegations about Grigg’s behavior for a decade, and three of the board’s members had served the school for nearly 20 years:
- Lee Anne Wilson, an attorney whose mother, Alma Wilson, founded the school and was the first woman on the Oklahoma Supreme Court;
- Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals Judge Barbara Swinton;
- Senate Minority Leader Kay Floyd (D-OKC).
Wilson, Swinton, Floyd and other former Seeworth Academy board members are listed as witnesses on the Grigg charging document filed Tuesday. State auditors and Prater’s office have questioned why more than $44,000 in school money was sent to attorneys after Seeworth closed and whether any of the board members broke the law by doing so.
“The treasurer would have handled that, I don’t know. I just don’t know,” Floyd told NonDoc this spring. “We went and closed everything out, and I thought everything was closed out.”
The “improper expenditures” identified by Byrd’s office included more than $81,700 for payroll and benefits, more than $44,700 for legal services and more than $9,200 for operations of the closed school. Auditors identified 114 expenditures made after the school closed June 30.
During their investigation, state auditors asked board members — who attended their interviews with an attorney who received some of the school money — about a whistleblower letter that had been submitted to Swinton by a Seeworth employee in the spring of 2019. Swinton emailed the employee and said, “These concerns were addressed by our board with our accountants and you should not have any concerns of the funds are being mishandled.”
Six weeks later, a separate board member was voted off the board after asking questions about the whistleblower letter. When concerns about Grigg’s alleged embezzlement were reported to police by a third party, Swinton initially told an Oklahoma City police officer that she had looked into the situation and saw no misconduct. Months later, she told the same officer that one improper expenditure had been identified.
Grigg becomes the fourth former leader of a troubled charter school to be charged with embezzlement by Prater this year. In June, Prater charged former Epic Charter Schools leaders Ben Harris, David Chaney and Josh Brock with financial crimes related to millions of dollars of public education funding.
On Wednesday, Byrd released a statement regarding the charges against Grigg and the audit of Seeworth Academy’s finances.
“[My office] only audits school districts by request if there appears to be a problem. Seeworth Academy was investigated because there was not a proper accounting of the finances,” Byrd said. “Theft of money intended to benefit Oklahoma students is a serious matter. Based on our audit findings, today’s events emphasize the importance that the taking and spending of our education dollars must be done with accountability and transparency.”
(Update: This article was updated at 5 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 28, to include Byrd’s statement.)