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Former Seeworth Academy superintendent charged with financial crimes

The building that once housed Polk Elementary School and Justice Alma SeeWorth Academy is pictured July 28, 2021, in Oklahoma City.
The building that once housed Polk Elementary School and Justice Alma SeeWorth Academy is pictured July 28, 2021, in Oklahoma City.

The former superintendent of a closed Oklahoma City charter school, Justice Alma Wilson Seeworth Academy, has been charged with embezzling school funds.

Janet Grigg, 76, was charged in Oklahoma County District Court on Tuesday with embezzlement of public money and of public property, as first reported by the online news outlet NonDoc.

Grigg, of Sentinel, is accused of stealing $250,000 in taxpayer dollars along with an SUV and computers belonging to the school. An attorney representing Grigg declined to comment.

Seeworth Academy, 12600 N Kelley, served students with academic and behavioral struggles from 1998 until it closed June 30, 2019.

Janet Grigg, the former superintendent of Seeworth Academy, was charged Tuesday with embezzling school funds. Grigg is pictured here in 2016.
Janet Grigg, the former superintendent of Seeworth Academy, was charged Tuesday with embezzling school funds. Grigg is pictured here in 2016.

"The investigation is ongoing to determine if others have criminal liability in this alleged theft of money that was intended to help educate some of our most vulnerable children," District Attorney David Prater said.

The charge stems from an investigation into Seeworth's finances by the Oklahoma State Auditor and Inspector's Office.

Former Seeworth Academy superintendent Janet Grigg gave herself $200K in bonuses

Auditors reported Grigg awarded herself $210,751 in bonuses meant for other school employees, lying to the Oklahoma State Department of Education all the while to hide her true earnings.

She spent more than $41,000 from a school bank account on personal expenses, including $10,000 charged to a Seeworth debit card to buy clothing, jewelry, cosmetics and home decor, according to the audit report.

DA investigators said they recovered school computers from Grigg's home that contained missing Seeworth records. Grigg kept these computers and a 2007 GMC Yukon SUV even after the school fired her on June 20, 2019, court documents state.

These items should have been turned over to Oklahoma City Public Schools, which absorbed Seeworth's students and belongings once the school closed, auditors and investigators said. Oklahoma City Public Schools had to repossess the SUV from Grigg's home in April 2020, 10 months after she was fired and Seeworth shut down.

The district attorney opened a criminal investigation following the November release of the state audit.

"The criminality of this cannot be ignored," State Auditor and Inspector Cindy Byrd said when releasing the audit report.

Cindy Byrd
Cindy Byrd

Auditors said Seeworth's school board ignored multiple red flags that should have alerted them to possible financial impropriety.

By 2019, board members included Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals Judge Barbara Swinton, Senate Minority Leader Kay Floyd and attorney Lee Anne Wilson, whose mother, Alma Wilson, founded the school. Alma Wilson, the first woman to serve as an Oklahoma Supreme Court justice, died in 1999.

Audits of Seeworth Academy dating back to 2009 showed possible violations

Annual school audits as early as 2009 warned the board of possible law violations and a troubling lack of internal controls meant to prevent fraud, state auditors said.

A 2012 lawsuit from a former Seeworth principal and auditors' letters in 2017 and 2019 communicated concerns over possible abuse of school funds. Finally in March 2019, a longtime Seeworth contractor sent a whistleblower letter to Swinton, the school board president at the time, alleging financial wrongdoing by Grigg, according to the state audit.

Auditors found an email in which Swinton appeared to dismiss the allegations.

“Thank you for your concerns about the financial health of Seeworth,” she wrote to the whistleblower in a March 10, 2019, email. “These concerns were addressed by our board with our accountants and you should not have any concerns that the funds are being mishandled.”

By May 2019, the state Education Department scrutinized the school for failing to maintain documents and account for taxpayer funds. The state agency demanded, under threat of revoking accreditation, a list of records from the school.

Seeworth failed to comply with the demand, according to the state audit. Its school board voted to close the school later that month.

Reporter Nuria Martinez-Keel covers K-12 and higher education throughout the state of Oklahoma. Have a story idea for Nuria? She can be reached at nmartinez-keel@oklahoman.com or on Twitter at @NuriaMKeel. Support Nuria’s work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today at subscribe.oklahoman.com.

This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: Former Seeworth Academy leader Janet Grigg charged with embezzlement