Updated: November 11, 2021 06:49 PM
Created: November 10, 2021 07:09 PM
The Minnesota Attorney General’s Office is now among those investigating Hmong College Preparatory Academy after the St. Paul charter school lost more than $4 million in a risky hedge fund investment in 2019.
Attorney General Keith Ellison is seeking HCPA’s “voluntary cooperation” in turning over financial documents and other related information, according to a letter obtained by 5 INVESTIGATES on Wednesday.
A financial analyst with Ellison’s office sent the letter to HCPA superintendent Christianna Hang last month — just three days after the Minnesota State Auditor released an investigative report that found the charter school’s $5 million investment with hedge fund Woodstock Capitol broke state law.
“I’m just diverting all the negativity away from this school … the last thing I’m doing for HCPA is to help save our school,” Hang said.
Now, the AG’s office is specifically seeking the names of those who had “significant management or financial responsibilities” with the school since 2019 and whether any of those same people were also in charge of outside companies or organizations that did business with HCPA.
The letter notes that the AG’s office has the authority to conduct investigations to “ensure compliance” with the Charitable Solicitation Act and other state statutes.
While the attorney general does not have any specific authority over charter schools, Steve Kelley, adjunct faculty at the University of Minnesota's Humphrey School of Public Affairs, says the AG is responsible for oversight of nonprofit organizations, which includes Hmong Prep.
"Thousands of nonprofits in Minnesota do operate without drawing the attention of the attorney general, so this case is unusual in that respect," Kelley said.
A former chair of the Minnesota Senate Education Committee, Kelley says the state has increased financial regulations for charter schools over the years.
"The goal is to make sure that public money is being used for the benefit of the students and not for adults who might be motivated to take advantage of the system," Kelley said.
A spokesperson for the HCPA board of directors said it has until Nov. 19 to respond to the letter from the AG.
HCPA will acknowledge the letter from Ellison at the next board meeting on Friday, according to its agenda. HCPA confirms it has yet to formally respond.
The AG’s office has not commented on its inquiry to HCPA and declined to provide a copy of the letter to 5 INVESTIGATES, citing protections for “active investigations” under the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act.
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