Trial Begins for Ex-L.A. Charter School Official on Embezzlement Charge

LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Jury selection is expected to begin this morning in the federal criminal trial of the former chief executive of Los Angeles- based charter school network Celerity Educational Group on charges of conspiracy to misappropriate and embezzle public funds.

Grace Canada is accused of participating in a scheme with Celerity's founder, Vielka McFarlane, to siphon more than $2 million in public education funds intended for students and misspend the money on first-class travel, fine dining, custom bikes and shopping in Beverly Hills.

McFarlane, 57, pleaded guilty and was sentenced in May to two and a half years in federal prison. She was also ordered to pay $225,000 in restitution to the U.S. Department of Education and is expected to testify against Canada in the coming days.

Canada said in a statement that she denies all charges.

Canada, who followed McFarlane as Celerity's CEO in April 2015, and stepped down in October 2017, was indicted in January by a federal grand jury in downtown Los Angeles on nearly the same charges as McFarlane.

Celerity Educational Group, now known as ISANA Academies, reached a non-prosecution agreement in 2017 and cooperated with the federal investigation. ISANA Academies runs six charter schools in L.A. and Compton.

Along with allegations that she caused the Celerity charter schools and Celerity Educational Group to falsely certify to federal, state and local authorities that they were complying with all rules and regulations governing the use of public funds, Canada is charged in a 23-count indictment with lying to the Internal Revenue Service.

Most of the funds, more than $2 million, were used without authorization to purchase and renovate an office building in Ohio for a new Celerity school, prosecutors allege.

McFarlane and Canada allegedly conspired to complete the sale, first by transferring more than $1.4 million intended for students to buy the building, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

The purchase allegedly emptied Celerity's accounts, and the woman then obtained a $1.5 million loan that was meant for the property but was instead used to cover payroll and other operating expenses, according to the indictment.

Photo:Getty Images

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