Phoenix, Arizona - Attorney General Mark Brnovich announced Joann Vega pleaded guilty Tuesday morning to two counts of theft, class two felonies, for her role in reporting false student enrollment at the Bradley Academy of Excellence a.k.a. Discovery Creemos Academy. The false reporting resulted in a loss of approximately $2.5 million in taxpayer funds mostly provided by the Arizona Department of Education.
The U.S. Department of Education, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture also overfunded the school as a result of the fraud.
Daniel Hughes, the Chairman and Director of the Bradley Academy, Harold Cadiz, the Principal, and Joann Vega, the Vice Principal, were all concerned with falling enrollment numbers due to student attrition. To keep the doors open, the three agreed to provide false student profiles to the State to replace students who left the school to maintain funding levels. The investigation discovered that during the 2016-2017 academic year, Bradley Academy reported approximately 191 fake students to the Arizona Department of Education. During the 2017-2018 academic year, the number of fake students reported increased to approximately 453.
The Bradley Academy closed abruptly in January of 2018, ahead of a random audit from the Arizona Department of Education. After being provided fraudulent student data, Vega entered the information into the Arizona Department of Education’s Synergy program for enrolled students.
Under the plea agreement, Vega may be sentenced to seven years of supervised probation or between 2 and 8.75 years in prison, followed by a period of supervised probation up to seven years. Vega is the third and final individual to plead guilty for her role in this fraud. A sentencing hearing for Vega is scheduled for April 24, 2020 at 9:30 AM.
On February, 14, 2020, Harold Cadiz, pleaded guilty to two counts of theft and will be sentenced on March 27, 2020. Cadiz created hundreds of fraudulent documents to support fake students including photoshopped parents' driver licenses, student birth certificates, and student shot records. Cadiz faces between 3 and 12.5 years in prison, followed by a period of supervised probation up to seven years.
In November of 2018, Daniel Hughes pleaded guilty to conspiracy and theft. Hughes pleaded guilty to one count of Conspiracy, a class 2 felony, and faces between 3 and 12.5 years in prison. A sentencing date for Hughes has not been scheduled yet.
The defendants will be ordered to pay in restitution $2.2 million to the State of Arizona, $91,000 to U.S. Department of Education, and $230,000 to U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Assistant Attorney General Mary Harriss is prosecuting this case.