PHILADELPHIA - ASPIRA Inc. of Pennsylvania, the Philadelphia-based operator of five charter schools in the city, has drawn the scrutiny of the FBI and the U. S. Attorney, according to a new lawsuit filed against the organization.
The federal lawsuit has been brought by Juanita Way, who worked for ASPIRA as its accounts payable coordinator.
Way alleges ASPIRA fired her last August after refusing to take part in "illegal" financial activity.
The lawsuit states that in December of 2015 she was contacted by the U.S. Attorney and the FBI, which were investigating potential financial improprieties by ASPIRA.
In September, FOX 29 Investigates revealed ASPIRA paid its former top educator $350,000 to settle a sexual harassment claim against its CEO, Alfredo Calderon.
An ASPIRA spokesperson was unable to comment Wednesday night on the new federal lawsuit.
On Thursday afternoon, Communications Coordinator Nathan Cross did respond to our report, saying in part, "the allegations in the complaint are outrageous and completely false," ASPIRA will "vigourously defend itself against these frivolous claims in court," and Way was "terminated for cause." (Read complete statement below.)
Last week, Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale announced he'll begin his audit of ASPIRA's five charters on Feb. 13.
Statement of ASPIRA Re: Juanita Way Lawsuit
The allegations in the Complaint are outrageous and completely false. ASPIRA is prepared to vigorously defend itself against these frivolous claims in court, and we expect to be fully vindicated. The plaintiff was terminated for cause, and the facts of her employment history clearly support ASPIRA’s decision. We also note that the Company’s decision to contest the plaintiff’s unemployment claim, which included a review of her employment history, resulted in the denial of unemployment compensation from the Commonwealth.
As for allegations of financial improprieties, as we have said before, ASPIRA Schools are audited annually by an independent accounting firm, and all of these audits – without exception – have resulted in "clean" audit opinions. To be clear, the specific allegations she raises about ASPIRA’s finances are baseless and untrue.
These allegations are simply the latest in a continuing effort by ASPIRA’s opponents to discredit the Company and its reputation as a leader in the education of children throughout Philadelphia’s Latino community. Any fair review of the facts of ASPIRA’s performance shows that our students have made steady academic progress in schools that are better-equipped and far safer than ever before.
We remain committed to serving our mission to improve the lives of these children, and we reiterate that we will not be deterred by those who seek to profit from controversy about our organization. Our goal is simple: Working in partnership with our dedicated and diverse staff of professionals, ASPIRA remains focused on giving our children a top-quality education.