An Ohio businessman accused of selling marked-up goods and fraudulently billing Florida charter schools, including five in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, was found guilty Friday in Escambia County Circuit Court.
After almost six hours of deliberation, a jury determined that Steven Kunkemoeller, 56, of Cincinnati, Ohio, was guilty of racketeering and organized fraud, two second-degree felonies. He faces up to 60 years in prison.
Escambia County Assistant State Attorney Russell Edgar said Kunkemoeller and Marcus May, the founder of Newpoint Education Partners, conspired to engage in a fraudulent billing and kickback scheme. Newpoint is a charter school management company that operated 15 schools in six Florida counties.
Edgar said that May solicited Kunkemoeller to form two shell companies, School Warehouse and Red Ignition, to purchase furniture and equipment supplies and mark up the prices as high as 300 percent to sell to charter schools managed by Newpoint.
In one instance, Newpoint Pinellas High bought 50 rectangular classroom tables for $244.99 each from Red Ignition, an item the school district could have provided at a cost of $109.88 each.
In another, Windsor Prep bought 43 round classroom tables for $239 each from School Warehouse, a product the district sells for less than $100.
All told, Kunkemoeller was paid over $2 million for the sales, Edgar said, and divided the profits with May. Edgar said the crimes occurred between 2010 and 2015 involving 14 schools in Pinellas, Hillsborough, Bay, Broward, Duval and Escambia counties.
Charters are public schools that are operated privately. Created, supported and continually expanded by the Florida Legislature, their stated purpose is to find innovative new ways to educate children. But they also are less closely regulated and less exposed to state accountability measures than traditional public schools.
East Windsor Middle Academy in St. Petersburg, which was shut down in summer 2016, was not counted among the schools victimized by Kunkemoeller because the school was not directly involved in his charges.
The school, however, will play a larger role in the case against May, who faces similar charges. His trial is scheduled to begin Sept. 10.
In Kunkemoeller's case, according to Edgar, the state called 80 witnesses from all six counties and from vendors around the country. Prosecutors pored over hundreds of bank accounts, contracts, management agreements, supplier invoices, pay records and emails.
"I think there were probably 10 banker boxes presented to the jury," Edgar said.
He said Kunkemoeller testified that he had no intent to defraud the schools, that mistakes were made and he trusted May. Edgar said Kunkemoeller denied he was in a conspiracy and denied the kickbacks.
Kunkemoeller's Ohio accountant testified and produced records, "describing his conversations with May where he did say he was going to engage in this business of selling things to schools because May had a conflict of interest," Edgar said.
Kunkemoeller will be sentenced within the next several weeks.
Newpoint managed five schools in Pinellas and one in Hillsborough County. Only one Pinellas school, Enterprise High, remains open in Clearwater.
Contact Colleen Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8643. Follow @Colleen_Wright.