Oklahoma County Judge Fines Epic Charter Schools' Nonprofit
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — An Oklahoma County district judge imposed a $500,000 fine on the nonprofit overseeing Epic Charter Schools for filing a libel and slander lawsuit against Sen. Ron Sharp, who alleged the virtual charter school unlawfully counted student enrollment and misused taxpayer dollars.
Judge Cindy Troung decided the nonprofit was subject to a fine under Oklahoma Citizens Participation Act because the law sanctions plaintiffs who file meritless lawsuits intended to silence critics, according to The Oklahoman.
Community Strategies Inc., which oversees Epic, sued Sharp in December for a minimum of $75,000, arguing the state senator knowingly made false and defamatory statements against the virtual charter school system.
Truong threw out the lawsuit and said Sharp’s public comments about Epic did not rise to the level of actual malice, which is the standard to prove libel and slander against a public entity.
Epic Charter Schools was under investigation last year for artificially inflating the number of students and pocketing millions of dollars illegally. In July, their enrollment numbers skyrocketed amid the coronavirus pandemic.
An Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation agent wrote in an affidavit for a search warrant that the school’s two founders, David Chaney and Ben Harris, recruited and enrolled “ghost students” who received little to no instruction.
Epic has denied any wrongdoing and no charges have been filed.