A3 charter school fraud defendant sentenced to probation, fined $300,000

Robert Williams and his lawyer stand at a lectern in San Diego Superior Court
Robert Williams, left, appeared in San Diego Superior Court in 2019. Prosecutors say Williams provided accounting services to A3 executives and his accounting firm shared an address with several A3 corporations.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Robert Williams, an accountant indicted in a sprawling charter school scheme that defrauded the state out of tens of millions of dollars, was sentenced to three years’ probation and ordered to pay $300,000 in fines in San Diego Superior Court on Friday.

Williams, 67, pleaded guilty in August to one felony count of altering or falsifying corporate records with the intent to defraud. He has been free on his own recognizance since he was arraigned in 2019.

Thomas Avdeef, an attorney representing Williams, declined to comment Friday afternoon.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Leon Schorr said Williams was cooperating with investigators and will continue to do so after sentencing. He also paid half of his $300,000 fine Friday, with the rest due May 1.

His three years of probation will be unsupervised.

“We’re happy to have recovered additional funds in the amount of $300,000 and pleased that he cooperated not only in the prosecution against him but against others as well,” Schorr said after the sentencing Friday.

Williams, 67, was among 11 defendants indicted in 2019 for allegedly participating in what has been called one of the nation’s largest fraud schemes.

San Diego County prosecutors said the defendants fleeced taxpayers of $400 million intended for K-12 education through the now-defunct A3 charter school network, then used the money for real estate and other ventures.


Investigators have said they’ve recovered more than $220 million.

Williams was the eighth defendant to be sentenced, Schorr said. Of the remaining three defendants, one was awaiting sentencing and the prosecution against two is ongoing.

Among the defendants who have pleaded guilty are the ringleaders of the scheme, an Australian man, Sean McManus, and his business partner in Southern California, Jason Schrock. The two founded A3 charter schools, a network of 19 online schools throughout California that defrauded the state, according to the indictment.

Three A3 schools were located in San Diego County.

Using student information often obtained from athletic clubs and private schools, the co-conspirators “enrolled” and claimed public funding for thousands of unwitting students, prosecutors said.

According to the indictment, Williams, McManus, Schrock and a small number of associates were listed as president, CEO, CFO, secretary, school administrator or board members of the various A3 schools. For one school, they listed two people as officers without their knowledge, prosecutors alleged.

The defendants used personal addresses or the Newport Beach address of an accounting business owned by Williams on paperwork to open bank accounts and submit annual filings, the indictment said.

Many of the schools also shared the same auditor, who submitted audits that said the schools were complying with spending and attendance accounting rules, according to the indictment.

Williams allegedly advised Schrock when an auditor noticed red flags, such as missing board approvals for a contract between A3 and another charter school that Schrock and McManus oversaw, prosecutors alleged.

Prosecutors said that the online charter schools provided little or no services to many of the hundreds of students “enrolled” in them.