Former MPS board president indicted in alleged charter school bribery scheme

Michael Bonds accused of accepting payments to benefit Milwaukee charter school operator

Universal Academy for the College Bound operated at 3872 N. 8th St. until it closed in 2017.

Last updated on June 18th, 2019 at 01:25 pm

Former Milwaukee Public Schools board of directors president Michael Bonds was charged in federal court Wednesday for his alleged involvement in a charter school bribery scheme while serving as MPS board president.

According to an indictment filed in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, Bonds is accused of accepting payments in exchange for acts that benefited Universal Companies, a Pennsylvania-based privately-operated education and development company, and its senior executives.

Bonds is charged with conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud and a violation of the Travel Act.

He served as president of the MPS board from 2009 to 2016.

Universal Companies, an umbrella organization for several businesses related to education management, charter school operations and neighborhood development, began operating Universal Academy for the College Bound in Milwaukee in 2013. Universal ended its contract with MPS in 2017.

In July 2013, the MPS board approved a five-year contract for a Universal subsidiary to operate two charter schools beginning in the 2013-14 school year. According to the indictment, Universal’s Milwaukee charter school contract lost money almost immediately and was directed multiple times to explain its operational deficit to MPS to remain in compliance with the charter school contract.

When the contract was up for renegotiation with MPS, Bonds allegedly conspired with Universal’s chief executive officer and chief financial officer to accept payments in exchange for his support of the charter school’s expansion.

In December 2014, Bonds advocated during a MPS board subcommittee meeting in support of Universal’s plans to add another Milwaukee campus, and later brought a motion before a subcommittee supporting the lease of an MPS building to house the new campus. The full board approved the expansion that month.

In exchange, Bonds received payments totaling $5,000 from Universal, which were disguised as payments for books to a company created by Bonds called African American Books and Gifts, the indictment said. Universal executives created fake documents, including false invoices and entries in books, records, and tax returns to make the payments, the indictment said.

In September 2015, the Universal executives and Bonds discussed by email the amount of money Bonds should put before the MPS Board regarding lease deferments for the company. In April 2016, Bonds motioned for approval of the new lease terms, which deferred payments of about $1 million owed by Universal. The terms were ultimately approved by the full board. Bonds received a $1,000 payment from Universal three days later.

If convicted, Bonds faces a maximum sentence of ten years in prison, a three year period of supervised release and a $500,000 fine.

MPS released the following statement in response:

Milwaukee Public Schools has recently become aware of federal charges brought against former Milwaukee Board of School Director Michael Bonds. This is an ongoing federal investigation and the district has no further comment at this time.”

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