Northwest Philly charter school founder pleads guilty to $500K theft

A Northwest Philadelphia charter school founder pleaded guilty Tuesday to stealing more than $500,000 worth of public funds to cover a slew of private expenses.

Hugh C. Clark, 65, who helped start New Media Technology Charter School in the city’s Cedarbrook section, initially pleaded not guilty in response to a 27-count federal indictment and was scheduled to stand trial this week.

Clark, an attorney and the school’s former board president, instead submitted a guilty plea memorandum to U.S. District Court in early March.

Coming clean

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In the document, Clark also fesses up to defrauding Wilmington Savings Fund Society of $339,000. He calmly accepted blame at the federal courthouse at Sixth and Market streets on Tuesday.

Clark faced trial on conspiracy, wire fraud, theft from a federally funded program and bank fraud charges.

Neither of Clark’s attorneys immediately returned calls seeking comment following Tuesday’s proceedings.

Ina M. Walker, the school’s former chief executive officer and a co-defendant in the case, also initially pleaded not guilty to the charges, but changed her plea to guilty in January. As part of that plea, Walker agreed to testify against Clark.

The pair has now both said they stole $522,000 allocated by the School District of Philadelphia to operate New Media.

Those funds were used to help finance Lotus Academy, a private school in Germantown that Clark founded, along with a health-food store, the Black Olive restaurant and web-based businesses that Clark created. The two also used New Media money to cover meals and credit card bills.

The back story

An investigation, launched by the School District’s inspector general in 2008, put the school on the cusp of losing its state charter.

Instead, the city’s School Reform Commission forced Walker and Clark to resign from their positions at New Media in Dec. 2009. The SRC required the school to hire a new CEO and completely replace its board, among other mandatory conditions.

Last November, a superseding indictment was released that included all 28 counts against Clark and Walker. The two were initially indicted that April.

The bank-fraud charge stemmed from a business loan awarded by WSFS to purchase a property to open the Black Olive restaurant. That was never repaid.

Sentencing in the case is expected to occur sometime in July. Assistant U.S. Attorney Joan E. Burns, who is prosecuting the case, said federal advisory guidelines suggest a 33-41 month prison sentence for Clark.

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