HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) -- State Auditor General Eugene DePasquale charged Wednesday that Pennsylvania's largest charter school was improperly reimbursed $1.3 million for lease payments on its own buildings and called on the state Department of Education to clamp down on the practice.
Speaking to reporters on a teleconference, DePasquale said Chester Community Charter School should not have been reimbursed because the property was owned for most of the three years in question by Vahan Gureghian, a wealthy Gladwyne lawyer who heads the company that manages the school. A nonprofit took it over in 2010.
The audit findings DePasquale made public Wednesday included a point-by-point rebuttal by the Delaware County school, which argued that it has never owned any of the leased properties and has done nothing wrong.
A Washington consultant retained by Gureghian's company, CSMI, LLC, participated in the teleconference and suggested afterward that DePasquale, a Democrat, is motivated by an anti-charter agenda.
"The auditor general just doesn't like" the situation, said consultant Richard Ades. "Therefore he's going to manipulate the auditing process to make it look like there's something untoward going on here and there is not."
Gureghian is an important political supporter of Gov. Tom Corbett, contributing more than $325,000 to the Republican's victorious 2010 campaign.
DePasquale noted that separate audits this year showed six smaller charter schools received more than $550,000 in lease reimbursements over several years that he said were similarly improper because the buildings were owned by entities with direct ties to the schools.
He said his goal is to ensure that limited state dollars are invested wisely in public schools, whether they are publicly or privately run. He denied using his office for political ends.
"My job is to call balls and strikes," he said. "We're calling them like we see them."
DePasquale was critical of the Department of Education, which oversees the charter reimbursements, and said it needs to do a better job of enforcing its own regulations.
The department relies solely on the signatures of officials applying for charter reimbursements to verify the accuracy of the information. It does not require proof that the rental amounts are accurate or that the payments were actually made, the audit report says.
"Read the deed," DePasquale said. "It's not rocket science."
A Department of Education spokesman did not return messages seeking comment.