Filing alleges Turkish religious movement at work inside Ohio charter school; operator says no

Associated Press

A recent court filing raises anew allegations a Turkish religious movement is wielding influence inside a chain of Ohio charter schools targeted in federal raids last year, claims the schools' operator maintains are false.

An ex-employee of Horizon Science Academy Denison Middle School made the allegations in a May affidavit filed in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court in an ongoing discrimination lawsuit brought by his wife, a fired teacher.

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Mustafa Emanet, who worked at the school from August 2006 to May 2009, says followers of the moderate Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen brought him to the U.S. from Turkey without a job interview, demanded cash kickbacks to the Gulen movement from his pay and pension and repeatedly deceived the U.S. government.

Emanet, of Elyria, says the school's Turkish teachers and administrators were called to exclusive staff meetings, attended religious retreats and made regular visits to the Poconos compound where Gulen lives in exile. Emanet says he saw a man who was with him on a 2007 trip to the compound deny any connection to Gulen in a 2012 television interview.

The Chicago-based Concept Schools, which operates the Horizon and Noble academies in Ohio, continues to deny formal ties to the Gulen movement. Officials there have said many of them admire the teachings of Gulen, a promoter of universal education, but he doesn't run their schools or benefit from the public money they collect.

Spokesman Mark Weaver said claims in the affidavit have been previously raised and disproved. He said Emanet and his wife, Mary Addi, have a longstanding vendetta against the school because of her firing and because it's non-union and are spreading falsehoods. He produced a letter in which Concept's attorney says Addi was terminated for reasons including "breach of contract, fraud, dishonesty, (and) insubordination."

"The school fired this disgruntled former employee because she was caught lying and caught working another job when she had promised taxpayers she would work full time," he said. "Later, she destroyed numerous public records to cover her tracks."

According to the affidavit, Murat Sagnak, then-director of the Horizon Academy, instructed Emanet to tell officials at the U.S. Embassy in Istanbul if they asked "that he (Sagnak) had conducted several phone interviews with me, which never actually happened."

Emanet says employees also were told to hand over the usernames and passwords to their State Teachers Retirement System accounts with the expectation they would "give the Gulen Movement our STRS retirement funds if we left the school." Further, he alleges Concept raised his pay from $28,000 to $42,000 and he "was instructed to give the money back in cash to the Gulen Movement every pay period."

Weaver said claims surrounding overpayments by Horizon were dismissed as unsubstantiated by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission five years ago. He said fewer than 10 percent of Concept Schools teachers are Turkish and money they donate to any cause is up to them.

Emanet did not return a call seeking additional information on Monday.