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'Created ghost students': Ex-Ariz. education dept staffers allegedly defrauded $600K from voucher program
Photo by Craig Hudson for The Washington Post via Getty Images

'Created ghost students': Ex-Ariz. education dept staffers allegedly defrauded $600K from voucher program

Three former Arizona Department of Education workers were charged with defrauding over $600,000 from the state's voucher, the Associated Press reported Thursday.

Delores Lashay Sweet, Dorrian Lamarr Jones, and Jennifer Lopez were indicted on conspiracy and money laundering charges for approving voucher applications for five fictitious students. The three workers allegedly forged birth certificates and special education evaluations to collect additional money for the made-up children.

The state's Department of Education fired the workers after they were accused of using voucher money, funded by taxpayers, to purchase luxury goods. Jadakah Celeste Johnson and Raymond Lamont Johnson Jr., Sweet's adult children, were also charged for their participation in the alleged scandal.

Arizona Democratic Attorney General Kris Mayes' issued a press release on Thursday explaining that the individuals allegedly involved in the scheme were accused of "engaging in fraud, conspiracy, computer tampering, illegally conducting an enterprise, money laundering and forgery related to the Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) Program." The suspects are being charged with "multiple felonies."

"They created ghost students with forged birth certificates – children that didn't exist – and gave them fake disability diagnoses that would make them eligible for larger funding amount," the state AG explained.

Mayes claimed the state's voucher program is "ripe for abuse." She is encouraging the Republican-majority legislature to "design a better program."

The Arizona Education Association, a labor union, echoed Mayes' sentiment about the program.

AEA President Marisol Garcia stated, "As every new headline makes clear, Arizona's ESA voucher program has been a complete disaster. The utter lack of accountability and transparency makes this program ripe for fraud and abuse. And yet ESA voucher proponents have blocked even the most basic, common-sense safeguards. It's time to rein in the ESA voucher program before it spins even further out of control."

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, claimed that "vouchers drain essential funds from schools."

Neal McCluskey, the director for Cato Institute's Center for Educational Freedom, defended the state's voucher program, noting that it "empower[s] families to choose education they feel is right" for their child by allowing tax dollars to follow the student.

"Anti-choicers are pouncing on fraud indictments in AZ, but it puts the lie to much of what they say: First, they say the program is legally a 'scam.' But clearly fraud is illegal in the program," McCluskey wrote on X. "And let's not pretend fraud doesn't happen in public schools."

"Fraud is never good. But this is hardly a sign that AZ's ESA program is fundamentally bad," he added.

United States Republican Senator John Kavanagh of Arizona also voiced his support for the school-choice program.

"I don't think that it's anymore damning of the ESA than when a bank teller steals money from the banking system," Kavanagh said, the AP reported. "It (the problem) is about the people, not the program."

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Candace Hathaway

Candace Hathaway

Candace Hathaway is a staff writer for Blaze News.
@candace_phx →