Six Alabama educators have been indicted in a years-long alleged fraud and conspiracy scheme involving virtual schools throughout the state.
Federal prosecutors say officials in Athens City Schools, Limestone County Schools and Conecuh County Schools conspired to get more state funding by pretending to enroll full-time private students into the systems’ virtual schools. Athens schools then used the extra money to “fund the completion of capital projects, including the new campus of Athens High School,” according to the indictment.
The 80-page indictment unsealed Tuesday morning in the federal Middle District of Alabama names as defendants William Lee Holladay, III, Deborah Irby Holladay, William Richard Carter, Jr, David Webb Tutt, Thomas Michael Sisk, and Gregory “Greg” Earl Corkren.
William Holladay, also known as Trey, was indicted on more than 100 counts of fraud.
Holladay was superintendent of Athens city schools and was on paid leave after investigators visited his house during what an FBI spokesman called a “law enforcement action.” Deborah Holladay, a former Athens teacher, is his wife.
According to the indictment, Holladay began seeking state funding in 2015 in order to enroll students from nearby private schools in Athens Renaissance, the county’s virtual school option. He told the state that guest-enrolled students would take a few classes from the virtual school but remain enrolled in their home schools. Instead, Marengo Academy students were added to Athens’ enrollment database, making them look like full-time students of the district and inflating the district’s enrollment numbers.
In 2016, Holladay and Carter, who was a technology teacher at Athens Renaissance School and later became the coordinator of virtual programs and then the director of innovative programs for the Athens City School District, worked to recruit private schools to provide private student information in order to enroll additional students in Athens Renaissance. Parents did not consent to give their children’s information to Athens Renaissance.
Students from five private schools, including schools in Mississippi and Georgia, were then enrolled for the 2016-17 school year. According to the indictment, Holladay told Corkren, a longtime friend of Holladay and a longtime educator for various districts in the state, to have the headmasters of the private schools create false Alabama addresses for the out-of-state students of the Lakeside School and Pickens Academy.
Sisk, the former superintendent of Limestone County Schools, in February 2020 resigned from the Bristol, Tennessee Board of Education, where he had been hired as school director, after questions were raised regarding his education.
Sisk, who led Limestone County Schools from 2012 to 2019, typically used “Dr.” in his bio in Alabama as well as Tennessee. He holds a doctorate in numismatics – the study of coins and currency – from Ashwood University, an unaccredited school based in Pakistan that offers “life degrees” in exchange for a few hundred dollars.
Tutt, of Marengo County, was a former football coach at Marengo Academy in Linden and also a longtime friend of Trey Holladay.
Carter is currently listed as Director of Planning on Athens’ website.
This is a developing story and will be updated.