Police investigate alleged charter school fund fraud

Police on Monday started investigating rumors of possibly fraudulent solicitations for money from a person or group working under the guise of a group trying to launch a charter school.

Two Foster City Islander columns written this month by publisheremeritus Sam Felser and Councilwoman Pam Frisella report that a brochure soliciting donations is circulating in town, but no one has been able to locate an actual brochure or find out for sure if it exists, police Capt. Jon Froomin said.

Word of the possible scam came from a handful of sources. Frisella said a resident told her someone had asked her for a $100 donation for the new high school. She said it sounded suspicious and reported it to the police. Islander Publisher Marjorie Felser said she and her father Sam heard reports of the possible fraud from city officials.

The reports prompted the Foster City High School Foundation, a nonprofit group seeking to bring a charter school to the city, to warn people Monday of the possible scam.

Foundation President Phyllis Moore said she feared people were collecting money in the foundation’s name. The group accepts donations, but has not solicited funds or started a fundraising campaign since 2004. “We don’t want to ratchet this up,” Moore said. “We want to protect our supporters. We don’t want them to be taken in by a scam, if there is one going on.”

Froomin heard of the possible scam on Thursday. Noting that no one else has come forward reporting a suspicious solicitation, Froomin said it’s unlikely that this is a moneymaking scam. Rather, he said it could be a community group legitimately seeking donations for a new high school — a hot topic for years in the city.

“I’m not ruling anything out at this point, but I really don’t think that this is some kind of criminal scam,” Froomin said.

Discussions on a charter high school are set to resume next month at the next City Council meeting, Frisella said.

She expects the council will to then set a timeline for the foundation to formulate a business plan for managing the new school.

The foundation and its supporters hope that a new high school will be built on part of a currently empty 15-acre lot on Foster City Boulevard. The City Council, members of which have said they also want to see revenue-generating uses on the city-owned land, last month voted to develop the site with a mix of retail, senior housing and possibly a charter school.

“My biggest question is still who will pay for the building and who will maintain it,” Frisella said. “Because we can’t afford to do it.”

tramroop@examiner.com Staff writer Beth Winegarner contributed to this report.

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