Father, son accused of using cash, strip clubs visits to bribe school officials
BY KIM JANSSEN AND LAUREN FITZPATRICK Staff Reporters April 28, 2014 1:12PM
Updated: May 30, 2014 6:13AM
A suburban father and son bribed education officials with cash, Caribbean cruises and strip club visits as they scammed taxpayers out of more than $33 million, federal prosecutors say.
Jowhar Soultanali, 58, of Morton Grove, and his son Kabir Kassam, 34, of Wheeling, are accused of amassing five homes, a small fleet of five luxury automobiles and diamond jewelry by overcharging schools across the nation for tutoring — including dozens in the Chicago-area.
Their Niles-based businesses, Brilliance Academy Inc. and Babbage Net School Inc., have been paid at least $23 million by Chicago Public Schools since 2005, records show.
Though it’s not clear how much of that may have been fraud, a federal indictment announced Monday alleges they ripped off school districts in 19 states.
The most serious accusations relate to bribes they allegedly paid in Texas and New Mexico. Arturo Martinez, 52, an official with the New Mexico Public Education Department, allegedly received unspecified “services” at a gentlemen’s club to help them win and keep a contract.
And Cedric Petersen, 61, of Corpus Christi, Texas, allegedly got Caribbean cruise vacations.
Together, Soultanali and Kassam allegedly snagged $8 million to $13.6 million for themselves by overbilling, the indictment alleges.
CPS spokesman Joel Hood said the district is working with the inspector general’s office to get to the bottom of any scams the father and son may have pulled in Chicago.
“We will take whatever action is necessary to hold these vendors accountable, including suspension of services or debarment, and to ensure that classroom funds are protected,” he said.
Brilliance’s web site touts its presence in more than 40 CPS elementary and high schools, as well as in school districts in Waukegan and Peoria.
The Illinois State Board of Education, which approved Babbage as a service provider around 2003 under a previous owner and approved Brilliance in 2005, counted at least 35 districts that paid the companies, according to board spokeswoman Mary Fergus.
Those districts include some of the state’s poorest — North Chicago 187, Harvey 152, — and some of the largest — U46 in Elgin, for example.
The indictment alleges that between 2008 and 2012, Soultanali and Kassam lied about “the nature and quality of the tutoring services the companies provided, instead providing substandard supplemental educational materials to students, falsely inflating invoices the companies submitted to school districts for purported tutoring services, and creating and distributing false student progress and improvement reports.”
Their companies didn’t test all the children at the start of tutoring, and faked progress reports to show children performing better by the end of tutoring, prosecutors alleged.
Soultanali could not be reached Monday.
Kassam’s attorney Matthew Crowl declined to respond to questions but said Kassam has been privately discussing the case with federal officials for several months and is looking foreword to telling “his side of the story in court.”
Neither man has yet entered a plea.
If convicted, each faces up to 20 years on each of five counts of mail fraud and up to 10 years on each of three counts of bribery.
The government is also attempting to seize their homes, cars, jewelry and $33 million in stolen taxpayer funds.