Former Charter School Head Sentenced on Fraud Charges
|U.S. Attorney’s Office February 10, 2014|
PHILADELPHIA—Masai Skief, 32, of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, was sentenced today to 36 months in prison for abusing his leadership positions at a Philadelphia charter school in order to enrich himself. Skief pleaded guilty to two counts of wire fraud in August 2013. He was the chief executive officer of Harambee Institute of Science and Technology Charter School (Harambee Charter School) and the president and chief administrative officer of a related non-profit organization, Harambee Institute Inc. (Harambee Institute). In addition to the prison term, U.S. District Court Judge Paul S. Diamond ordered Skief to pay restitution in the amount of $88,000 and a $200 special assessment and ordered three years of supervised release, during which time Skief is not permitted to work in an administrative capacity at any school or in any capacity at Harambee Institute and Charter School.
Harambee Charter School, a non-profit corporation, was established to educate children from kindergarten to eighth grade. Harambee Institute was a separate non-profit established to provide students with educational services and vocational training. For its students, Harambee Charter School created a scholarship fund intended to benefit those who intended to attend a “historically black institution of higher education in the United States.”
Skief engaged in a scheme to improperly obtain the funds of both the scholarship fund and Harambee Institute. First, Skief improperly withdrew $9,000 from the scholarship fund in order to purchase a house for himself in Philadelphia. Then, through his control of the bank accounts of Harambee Institute, Skief converted for his own personal use approximately $79,000 from Harambee Institute. He did this primarily through a series of improper cash withdrawals from the bank accounts of Harambee Institute.
Skief also made substantial efforts to conceal his illegal activities, both during and after the fraud. In particular, he attempted to disguise a significant portion of his improper cash withdrawals from the accounts of Harambee Institute as labor costs for Harambee Institute, when there were no such labor costs associated with the improper withdrawals. Skief directed an accountant to create IRS forms to reflect this false information. Skief also directed others to lie for him to federal agents and to a federal grand jury about the use of the funds that the defendant had unlawfully converted. Finally, even after agreeing to plead guilty, Skief continued to steal from Harambee Institute, taking over $12,000 in additional funds, some of which he stole while awaiting sentencing.
The case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the United States Department of Education Office of Inspector General. It was prosecuted by First Assistant United States Attorney Louis D. Lappen and Assistant United States Attorney Joseph J. Khan.