In Arizona, a state grand jury has indicted Rashanett McDermott on charges of fraudulent schemes and artifices, fraudulent schemes and practices and two counts of theft for illegally using her sons’ state scholarship money. Arizona Central reports that McDermott received funds for her two sons for the 2014 school year but used the money for electronics at Wal-Mart and possibly to pay for an abortion.
McDermott’s children were given the taxpayer-funded Empowerment Scholarship, which allows families to use a reloadable Visa card to pay for private-school tuition, homeschooling curriculum, educational therapies, online classes, community-college tuition and other educational costs.
The state grand jury indictment indicates that McDermott was asked to return the money but has not done so. Attorney General Mark Brnovich said the following about the case: “Anyone who is found to have blatantly abused the system by misusing public benefits will be investigated and vigorously prosecuted by my office. Protecting the taxpayers of Arizona is a top priority.”
Michael Bradley, the Chief of Staff to state schools Superintendent Diane Douglas, referred the case to the Attorney General. Their department determined that the types of services offered by the clinic where the money was spent did not include educational costs that would meet the scholarship’s requirements.
Bradley explained, “They go to a place that’s not obviously a school place. What they did is went to an innocuous health-care clinic, which may or may not be for the kid’s condition, and so our staff … they looked into it and checked. And found that in this case, it appeared — it’s alleged — that the person in the guise of using it for health care for education of the child, paid for an abortion.”
Spokeswoman for Attorney General Brnovich, Mia Garcia, said McDermott faces three to 12 1/2 years in prison. She also revealed that McDermott spent $410 of the scholarships funds at a “family-planning center” called Camelback Family Planning. It is likely that McDermott used the money for an abortion because that particular medical center is an abortion clinic. In fact, information about their abortion “services” is readily available on their website.
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In 2014, McDermott applied for and received an Empowerment Scholarship for two of her children for the 2014-2015 school year. The Empowerment Scholarship is a tuition assistance program to be used for tuition at non-governmental private schools in Arizona. There are statutory limitations on how the scholarship funds can be spent. McDermott allegedly signed an agreement stating she would not enroll her two children in public school while receiving Empowerment Scholarship funds. Despite the signed agreement, McDermott allegedly enrolled both of her children in public schools during the 2014-2015 school year.
More than $2,500 in scholarship funds were distributed to McDermott through a reloadable Visa card. It is alleged that McDermott used the scholarship funds placed on the reloadable Visa card to purchase several electronic devices on Walmart.com, including a high definition television, a smartphone, and two computer tablets. It is alleged that McDermott also used the scholarship funds to make a $410 non-qualified payment to Jackrabbit Family Medicine, which is now known as Camelback Family Planning.
An internal audit by the Arizona Department of Education uncovered the ineligible purchases and the information was forwarded to the Attorney General’s Office. Upon discovery of these purchases and payments, McDermott was sent a notification requiring her, pursuant to the rules of the scholarship, to pay back the more than $2,500 McDermott received through the scholarship. McDermott did not pay back any of the scholarship funds.