Philadelphia School District officials said students would be allowed to return to the Harambee Institute of Science and Technology charter school on Monday now that a nightclub has been removed from the building.

Benjamin W. Rayer, the School District's top charter administrator, said Superintendent Arlene Ackerman received a letter from the president of Harambee's board saying the club and banquet facility ceased operations Tuesday.

Ackerman had threatened to close the school at 640 N. 66th St. if the club remained in the building.

"What we have asked for has happened," said Rayer, who toured the school with district and state officials Wednesday.

Meanwhile, a day after City Controller Alan Butkovitz questioned the business and employment practices of Rhonda Sharif, Harambee's chief financial officer, her lawyer predicted that she would be exonerated once documents are reviewed.

"I'm pretty confident that when the investigative authorities go through all the paperwork they will realize this has been a very exciting show, but there is a lot of sizzle here but not much steak," lawyer Charles J. Grant said Wednesday.

In addition to handling the business operations at Harambee, Sharif simultaneously held the top business positions at the Mathematics, Civics and Sciences Charter School at 447 N. Broad St. and Khepera Charter School in West Mount Airy.

Butkovitz said an investigation into 13 city charter schools by his office found that Sharif was paid $700,561 over four years by the three schools, claimed to have worked more than 365 days in each year, and collected $101,587 in reimbursement for "unspecified" credit-card expenses from one of the schools in 2008.

He said he released the portion of his report pertaining to Harambee after news reports that a nightclub was operating in the school building on weekend nights. The full report will be released within two weeks.

After the state charter law was changed in July 2008 to bar charter administrators from being paid by more than one school, Sharif was employed solely by Mathematics, Civics and Sciences. However, in an apparent violation of the law, she continued to provide business services to the other two schools under contracts, Butkovitz said. She stopped providing services to Khepera at some point in 2009, he added.

The investigation by Butkovitz's office also found that Sharif's husband's construction company - Str8-Hand Construction Inc. - had received $7.44 million in construction and maintenance contracts with the three charter schools.

Last week Sharif received a federal subpoena at Math, Civics and Sciences for five years of the school's financial records. The subpoena also covered the records of Harambee and Khepera, Grant disclosed.

Following Grant's advice, Sharif has declined to comment.

The federal criminal investigation into local charter schools has now spread to at least nine. The probe was launched in May 2008, after The Inquirer reported allegations of financial mismanagement at the Philadelphia Academy charter in the Northeast.

As part of the district's investigation into Harambee, Rayer said, authorities found evidence that allegations about the nightclub had surfaced in 2002 during the administration of former school district chief executive Paul Vallas.

District records show that a lawyer who no longer works for the district reported that a liquor license had been transferred to Harambee Institute Inc., a related nonprofit. In a 2003 memo, the lawyer recommended scheduling a hearing to allow the charter board to explain "how this arrangement is in the best interests of the children and furthers the intent of the Charter School Law and the Public School Code."

The district said there was no evidence that a public hearing was held.

Vallas, now superintendent of the Recovery School District in New Orleans, said he sent investigators to Harambee and threatened to revoke the school's operating charter if the club continued.

"We scared the living daylights out of them," Vallas said. "I don't recall getting any more complaints after we cracked down. I don't know what's happened in the last three years."

Rayer said he had received a tip a year ago suggesting he look into the use of Harambee's banquet hall but he said charter officials assured him the facilities were used only for appropriate events such as birthday parties.

Rayer said he would have pursued the matter if there had been any indication the facility was being used as a club where alcohol was served.