Shown below is the header from an email I sent to Grand Traverse Academy attorney Kerry Morgan about the charter school's pursuit of $1.67 million dollars still owed by its former manager, Steven Ingersoll's Smart Schools Management, Inc.
The entire text of the email follows this cropped image. I'll let you know when I get an answer.
What is preventing the Grand Traverse Academy Board from filing a civil action against Steven Ingersoll’s Smart Schools Management to recover the estimated $1.67 million dollars still owed by SSM?
Although the Academy Board met with Ingersoll on May 20, 2013 to discuss his $3.5 million dollar debt (learning during that meeting Ingersoll was the subject of a federal tax evasion investigation), why are conflicting statements regarding a possible recovery effort still being issued by GTA Board representatives?
On July 18, 2014, Grand Traverse Academy Board President Brad Habermehl was quoted in the Traverse City Record-Eagle stating: "Do we sue Smart Schools or take it to court? What are our options? The $1.6 million has been haunting us for over a year now.”
About a month later (August 25, 2014), the Record-Eagle ran another story quoting you explaining that you’d been looking into how and whether it was even possible for the school to retrieve the outstanding $1.67 million from Smart Schools: “The fundamental question is whether there’s a legally enforceable obligation for that money to be paid.”
In response to an email from me requesting clarification, you explained that “GTA had a management contract with Smart Schools Management, not Ingersoll. Smart Schools Management (SSM) is a corporation, Ingersoll an individual. GTA’s recovery if any must arise from under the management contract. The fact that Ingersoll is the owner SSM does not make him personally liable on a contract between SSM and GTA. This is the nature of corporate liability.
Statements that ‘Ingersoll owes GTA x dollars’ are misleading. If the Ingersoll personally owes GTA any money it must arise from some legal obligation. An oral promise without valid consideration is simply not an enforceable legal obligation.”
About a month later, you officially announced the GTA’s decision to wait until after Ingersoll’s federal criminal case was resolved before action would be taken to recover $1.67 million dollars owed from Ingersoll’s Smart Schools Management.
However, recent comments by Board President Brad Habermehl have me perplexed.
Although Dr. Habermehl was quoted on January 8, 2015 by online magazine “The Bridge” stating that “whatever the school owed the company or the company owed the school is no longer at issue”, in early July he told Interlochen Public Radio the Academy Board may bring in an “outside arbitrator”, although Habermehl stated he was “not confident the money will ever be recovered because of liens the government has placed on Ingersoll’s assets”.
Although the IRS recently registered two federal income tax liens against Ingersoll and Smart Schools Management, Inc. ($124,455.02 on May 18 and $7,509.45 on May 4) in Grand Traverse County, the federal government has yet to place any liens against Ingersoll's assets.
As I understand, that will only occur after Ingersoll is sentenced in September.
So what's really going on?
Habermehl himself confirmed in an email to me that the Grand Traverse Academy never amended Ingersoll’s Smart Schools Management contract with the details of that agreed upon three-year fee “repayment plan” outlined in the Academy's 2013 fiscal annual report, apparently leaving the charter school without a “legally enforceable obligation for that money to be paid.”
In addition, although former Academy attorney Doug Bishop issued a "demand letter" on June 13, 2013 to Ingersoll seeking return of over $3.5 million dollar, a civil suit was never filed then—a pre-indictment point in time that may have been favorable to a successful recovery.
It appears that any real opportunity to recover the money before Ingersoll's federal indictment may have been squandered.
During her testimony during Ingersoll's federal trial, GTA attorney Margaret Hackett revealed the Grand Traverse Academy Board's then-President Mark Noss called a meeting with the Board, Ingersoll and Hackett on May 20, 2013. Ingersoll admitted to those in the meeting that he was under federal investigation for fraud and tax evasion, and asked the Board to characterize his $3.5 million dollar debt to the school a “loan”.
Per Hackett’s testimony, Ingersoll told those attending the May 20 meeting that he “could not afford to pay that (his Academy debt) and his taxes all at the same time”, and needed to have the debt characterized as a loan.
When asked by the government during Ingersoll’s trial if the Grand Traverse Academy, as a public school academy, was even allowed to make a loan, Hackett said no. Saying that the Grand Traverse Academy had “no legal authority” to loan money to Steven Ingersoll, Hackett explained that Michigan law prohibits a public body, like the appointed board of a charter school, from making any loans.
So I'll ask two obvious questions: why has no civil action been filed against Smart Schools Management to recover the estimated $1.67 million still owed to the Grand Traverse Academy, and does the Board ever plan on filing suit?