It reads like the kind of crime novel you'd buy in an airport news kiosk: the story of opportunistic people, their retinue and cheerleaders riding the gravy train — and all they want from the public is money and suckers.
Three months after the leader of the crew is indicted by the federal government on various tax and fraud charges, the school board president, the crew's leading enforcer and spokesperson, solemnly reads the following statement into the meeting official record:
“If not for the efforts and intellectual contributions of Dr. Steven Ingersoll and Kaye Mentley and Smart Schools’ willingness to rebate its earnings, GTA would not likely exist today.
Over the years GTA needed substantial financial support and Smart Schools always supplied what the Academy needed.
Analysis of GTA’s audited financial statements and board minutes from June, 2004 through March, 2014 shows that Smart Schools gave GTA from its budgeted and contractually authorized earnings. Additionally, Smart Schools planned to rebate another $1.6 million from its future earnings which is classified on GTA’s books as a non-spendable asset.
Smart Schools founded and funded GTA from its origin. GTA flourished in large part because Smart Schools was willing to rebate its contract and budgeted authorized earnings during GTA’s lean years of infancy, expansion and State funding reductions.
With Smart Schools no longer associated with GTA the board will now go into closed session to consider disposition of the $1.6 million non-spendable asset.”
The group insists its cut all ties with Smart Schools Management and Steven Ingersoll, although we later learn that's not true.
In fact, as the president makes his statement during that July 17, 2014 meeting of the Grand Traverse Academy's board of directors, he's only four months away from soliciting a $300,000 investment from a business associate for his “friend and colleague” Steven Ingersoll.
Even after Ingersoll is convicted, the board president continues to tout the so-called investment, erroneously claiming to his associate he didn't know the extent of Ingersoll's problems.
Within months, it's revealed that the board president (whose real estate portfolio includes at least three properties in Michigan, one in Florida and a fishing camp in Ontario, Canada) defaulted on a six-figure bank loan. Days after the default judgment was made public, the board president loses his bid for reelection.
But if you thought the departure of the board president in June 2016, having reached the end of his usefulness to the crew, was the end of this story, you'd be wrong.
Just before the board president's departure, that body's previous head makes news — big news.
The former board president had the extraordinary good fortune of inheriting Steven Ingersoll's Traverse City-based management empire, just days before he was indicted by the feds.
The president was still in charge of the Grand Traverse Academy board when its members voted unanimously during an early morning March 19, 2014 special meeting to “dissolve” its relationship with Steven Ingersoll's Smart Schools Management — a vote that resulted in the president being awarded a contract to manage the Grand Traverse Academy, a relationship that could ultimately pay him millions of dollars.
And although he secretly co-owned an intellectual copyright with Steven Ingersoll, one that received hundreds of thousands of dollars annually from the Grand Traverse Academy under the guise of curriculum development, the former president and new management company head insisted for years that he had no business relationship with Steven Ingersoll.
The new management company head was forced to acknowledge he'd been paying Ingersoll at least $12,500 a month since assuming his spot as the titular head of the Grand Traverse Academy. Later, the government released documents in Steven Ingersoll's case that revealed a total of $627,624.14 was paid by the new management company head to Ingersoll.
The new management company head's former accountant (one of at least six that had come and gone from his company in less than two years) spectacularly blew the whistle, informing the Grand Traverse Academy board of the previously secret payments in a stunning email.
If you were reading this paperback on your flight, your plane has reached its cruising altitude and the captain's turned off the seat belt sign: time for a cocktail.
The story's about to take a truly surprising plot twist, and it involves a new character, a man I'll call the authorizer.
But we need a flashback, that time-honored literary device.
In December 2015, the now-disgraced board president testified for the defense during Steven Ingersoll's sentencing hearing, revealing under oath that Bruce Harger, former head of Lake Superior State University's Charter School office was one of Steven Ingersoll's four partners in a private school project.
Yes, the authorizer! The watch dog had become a lap dog!
Who saw that one coming?
Some minor turbulence jars your flight, and our story returns to the present.
But look at this twist: the authorizer, the new management company head and the former board president all write letters (on the same day!) to the Michigan Optometry Board on behalf of Steven Ingersoll!
What were they thinking?
Coached by Ingersoll, Harger dutifully writes a glowing letter of recommendation on Ingersoll's behalf.
And so does Mark Noss, the new management company head, along with Brad Habermehl, the now-former Grand Traverse Academy board president.
You put down the book, rub your temples and wonder: what's next, prepaid expenses?
Prepaid expenses?! The bullshit cover story the Grand Traverse Academy board used for years to cover up Steven Ingersoll's misappropriation of millions from the Traverse City charter school?
The phrase Mark Noss himself said was a terrible description of what that money is, even after learning in 2013 it was a desperate lie?
Or the truth, admitted finally by Steven Ingersoll on the stand during his sentencing hearing: between 2007 and 2012, Ingersoll paid himself his entire Smart Schools Management fee at the beginning of each fiscal year in a lump sum. When the management fee was adjusted, and a significant amount was owed to the Grand Traverse Academy, Ingersoll created a receivable, later termed a related party receivable.
At the beginning of each fiscal year, after Ingersoll paid the previous year's receivable balance using Michigan school aid money provided to the Grand Traverse Academy, he simply created a new and even larger receivable balance.
According to Ingersoll's December 9, 2015 sentencing hearing testimony, the Grand Traverse Academy board did not require him to pay down his balance to zero, allowing it instead to balloon to over $3.5 million by 2012.
Calling it a prepaid expense worked...until it didn't.
And it's back, and so is Smart Schools Management.
UNBALANCED SHEETS: FIRST YOU DON'T SEE IT...NOW YOU DO!
As you can see when you compare the Grand Traverse Academy's FYE June 2016 3rd and 4th quarter balance sheets, a prepayment of $253,449.61 was made to Smart Schools Management, apparently during the 4th quarter.
The disclosure was made during a special August 30, 2016 Grand Traverse Academy board meeting.
So, will the Academy board or Mark Noss have an explanation during tomorrow's scheduled 1:00pm annual meeting?
And will we finally find out if Steven Ingersoll is a philanthropist, a thief...or just another robbin' hood?