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Ex-NM education official charged in tutoring conspiracy

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A former New Mexico education official was charged in a federal indictment unsealed in Chicago on Monday with soliciting and accepting bribes as part of a larger conspiracy in which a national tutoring firm defrauded school systems around the country of millions of dollars under the No Child Left Behind Act.

Arturo Martinez, who headed the state Public Education Department’s Supplemental Educations Services Program and was director of Migrant Education, is charged with soliciting and accepting bribes, including money, meals and services at a gentleman’s club, from the owners of the Chicago-area based Brilliance Academy Inc.

The indictment alleges the bribes were paid to influence Martinez in a series of transactions between the state and the Brilliance Academy and its subsidiary Babbage Net School Inc. during a period of at least six months in 2010.

Brilliance Academy and Babbage Net School were supposed to provide tutorial help to students in failing schools and received more than $33 million from more than 200 public school districts by falsely inflating invoices for tutoring services, and providing false and misleading student progress reports, the indictment claims.

The indictment alleges the Chicago businesses paid Martinez and others in Texas school districts bribes to obtain students for tutoring, and get federal and state funds.

The company’s Chicago-area owners, Jowhar Soultanali and his son, Kabir Kassam, are accused of paying the bribes and defrauding the program of millions of dollars.

According to the indictment, getting on lists of approved tutorial programs was a key element in the alleged fraud and required bribes in some states and school districts.

A state official said Martinez resigned in January 2012 after being put on administrative leave.

“We are continuing to cooperate with the federal investigation, as we have for the last two years,” said PED spokesman Larry Behrens. “That is all we can comment on the matter.”

Soultanali and Kassam are charged with making false promises in marketing materials and applications that they would provide extensive pre-testing and tests after students finished their tutoring, which prosecutors claim didn’t happen.

They allegedly created false student attendance records and billed for the time.

The indictment alleges Soultanali and Kassam were able to pocket between $8 million and $13.6 million for themselves and their families.

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