One of three defendants pleading guilty Thursday to conspiring to defraud the Alabama Department of Education by falsely inflating the number of students enrolled in public virtual schools admitted he received more than $500,000 from the scheme, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Alabama.
The three defendants entering guilty pleas Thursday were former Limestone County Schools superintendent Tom Sisk, 55, of Toney; Gregory Earl Corkren, 56, of Tuscaloosa; and David Webb Tutt, 61, of Uniontown, the office announced.
Named in the federal indictment in February were Sisk, former Athens City Schools superintendent Trey Holladay and his wife Deborah, a former Athens City Schools teacher; Rick Carter, Athens City Schools’ director of planning; and Tutt and Corkren, both described in the indictment as longtime friends of Trey Holladay. Carter is now on paid administrative leave.
Corkren’s plea agreement states that he personally received in excess of $500,000 from the scheme and, over the course of the conspiracy, he paid Trey Holladay about $90,000 in cash and he paid Carter about $21,000 in cash.
The indictment charges that Sisk and Holladay conspired to fraudulently include in Athens and Limestone County public virtual schools students who were full-time students of private schools in other parts of the state.
As a result, districts received payments from Alabama’s Education Trust Fund as if the students actually attended public schools and the defendants then received, for their personal use, portions of the state money.
To obtain student information for the scheme, the defendants are accused of offering laptop computers, access to online curriculum, standardized testing and money to private schools, mostly in Alabama’s Black Belt region. The students continued to attend their own schools each day and pay tuition to those schools.
Corkren admitted in his guilty plea that around 2016, he agreed with Trey Holladay to form a company and serve as an intermediary between Athens City Schools and the private schools. Corkren acknowledged providing computers, checks and other benefits to the private schools in exchange for student information. He also said that, at the direction of Trey Holladay, he prepared false documents on the students’ performances in virtual courses and Holladay then submitted the documents to the Alabama Department of Education.
Tutt testified that he received monthly payments from Corkren’s company in the amount of $33,000. He said that at the direction of Trey Holladay, he paid half of each payment, or $16,500, to a company owned by Deborah Holladay.
A sentencing date for Sisk, Tutt and Corkren has not been set.
The trial for Trey and Deborah Holladay and Rick Carter is scheduled to begin Sept. 13 in Montgomery.
This case was investigated by the FBI and U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Inspector General, with the Alabama Attorney General’s Office assisting in the investigation.