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No verdict until next year

$6M fraud case vs. charter boss on hold

A JURY will break for the year without resolving charges in a $6 million fraud case against a Philadelphia charter-school operator.

The jury is weighing dozens of charges against Dorothy June Brown, 76, who is charged with taking millions of dollars in salaries and fees from four schools she ran.

The indictment charged that Brown set up private consulting companies, Cynwyd and AcademicQuest, which defrauded the Agora Cyber and Planet Abacus charter schools that she founded in 2005 and 2007.

She is also charged with defrauding her Laboratory Charter School of Communication and Languages, which she opened in 1997.

A compensation expert had testified for the defense that Brown's pay was not unreasonable at schools with high test scores, but prosecutors said the case is about a crime, not test scores.

Earlier yesterday, Michael Slade Jr. and Courteney Knight were cleared of conspiracy and obstruction counts but the jury said they'd made no progress on the dozens of counts against Brown after a week of deliberations.

The jury returns Jan. 6.

Slade, Brown's grand-nephew, ran the Laboratory Charter School, which won a prestigious National Blue Ribbon from the U.S. Department of Education during his tenure.

Slade said afterward that federal investigators have "bullied" him for the past two years. His lawyer, Andrew Bellwoar, raised a key point in the debate over charter schools when he argued last week that Brown's students outperformed their peers in traditional public schools.

"This isn't a case about kids and test scores, it's a case about contracts," Assistant U.S. Attorney Joan E. Burnes countered. "These crimes didn't occur in a classroom."

Knight's lawyer said his client may return to his charter school today.