An interesting e-mail circulating in elite circles in the last week…
From: Furkan Amil Gür
Date: March 30, 2013, 9:03:06 PM CDT
Subject: Turkish-Louisianan Business & Legislative Reception, May 6th @5:30 pm
Dear Honorable Representative :
I hope that this letter finds you in good health.
We are cordially asking and expecting you to participate in the second “Turkish-Louisianan Business & Legislative Reception” to be held at the “Camelot Club” on May 6th, 2013 after the end of the session to be organized by the Atlas Foundation and Turquoise Council of Americans and Eurasians. This event will include reception, conversation, live music, remarks, impressions and brief presentations.
We are in the process of forming our committee and were wondering if you would like to be a part of our committee for this year as well.
As of now, Senate President John Alario, Senators Sharon W. Broome, Chuck Kleckley, Gary Smith, A.G. Crowe, Representatives Regina Barrow, Terry B. Brown, and Ledricka Thierry have accepted to join our host committee.
For our previous reception in 2010, Mitchell Joseph “Mitch” Landrieu, Joel T. Chaisson, Jim Tucker, and Melvin “Kip” Holden were also among the members of the host committee along with 21 other Louisiana senators and representatives.
I would like to kindly ask for an appointment with you to present you our official invitation letter and provide you with more information about this event.
Should you have any questions, please contact us at (225) 923-8247 or [email protected].
Furkan A. Gur
Why is this such a big deal? Well, you have to know who the Atlas Foundation is. Because Atlas is the name of the front group for the Turkish Muslim Fethullah Gulen movement, and they’ve surfaced before as the operators of a pair of charter schools under another name. The two charter schools, Abramson and Kenilworth Science & Technology were/are operated by the Pelican Education Foundation, which is Atlas.
Abramson was closed due to documented deficiencies in the educational program along with concerns about the heavy recruitment of teachers using H1B visas. Teachers from Abramson who participated in a school-sponsored trip to Turkey reported receiving pamphlets about the Gulen movement.
Inci Akpinar, the vice president of a company called Atlas Texas Construction & Trading, sat down with an official from the Louisiana Department of Education a little more than a year ago and made him an offer.
As the state official, Folwell Dunbar, recalled in a memo to department colleagues, Akpinar flattered him with “a number of compliments” before getting to the point: “I have twenty-five thousand dollars to fix this problem: twenty thousand for you and five for me.”
At the time, Dunbar was investigating numerous complaints against Abramson Science & Technology Charter School in eastern New Orleans, which shares apparent ties to Akpinar’s firm as well as charter schools in other states run by Turkish immigrants.
In fact, state auditors had already turned up startling deficiencies at Abramson. The records they kept of unannounced visits to the campus, as well as interviews with former teachers, paint a chaotic scene: classrooms without instructors for weeks and even months at a time, students who claimed their science fair projects had been done by teachers, a single special-needs instructor for a school of nearly 600.
Dunbar — having declined to take money from Akpinar — recommended more than a year ago that the state board of education yank Abramson’s charter.
But the board ultimately stopped short of closing down the school, giving it a year to shape up under a “corrective action plan.”
Until this Friday, the school was set to open its doors for another academic year because of a tweak to board policy that pushed back all charter renewals until later in the year.
But after questioning by the The Times-Picayune, acting State Superintendent of Education Ollie Tyler late Friday wrote to the state board asking it to prevent the school from opening in the fall, citing problems discovered during the original investigation and a new information about an incident between two young students that was possibly sexual in nature.
That an executive from Atlas Texas, a Houston-based contractor, would speak on the school’s behalf points to the somewhat opaque connections that link Abramson with other schools and businesses founded by Turkish expatriates. Atlas has won numerous contracts in the past from a Texas-based school operator called the Cosmos Foundation.
Cosmos does not run Abramson, but it has a wide-ranging support contract with the Pelican Education Foundation, the local nonprofit that operates both Abramson and Kenilworth Science & Technology Charter School in Baton Rouge.
Among teachers who have spent time in the building, Abramson has earned something of a black-sheep reputation.
Many have wondered about the foreign instructors at the school who appear to be of Turkish origin. State records and interviews show some had trouble communicating in English, which has led to speculation that the school may be taking advantage of a visa program intended to bring highly skilled workers into the country.
Similar allegations have cropped up in other states where the Cosmos Foundation operates. The group runs a charter network called the Harmony Schools in Texas, where they’ve encountered unfounded accusations that they somehow promote Islamic extremism, largely because of an interest by some of the group’s leaders in the movement begun by a Turkish religious scholar named Fethullah Gulen.
Given the rather turbulent – and recent – history of the Gulen movement’s foray into charter schools in Louisiana, one would think they’d be a little too hot for legislators to handle.
But when you consider who the folks on the “host committee” are, you quickly come to the realization that for some of our political luminaries the only thing that matters is a big, sweaty roll of money.
John Alario? Gary Smith? Sharon Weston Broome? When people talk about a history of greasy dealings by current politicians in Louisiana those names come up all the time. Regina Barrow’s name usually comes up as well.
Some of the others, maybe not quite so much. And what very often happens is that when a legislative session approaches and the social invitations go out, most legislators tell the folks putting on these various soirees “Sure, I’ll be there,” without so much as a thought toward whose food and booze they’ll be consuming.
But with this one, a bit of circumspection is warranted. This is a crowd which has already found itself in print trying to bribe state officials to make shady dealings, or the surfacing of which, go away. Their attempted cozying up to legislators with bad reputations this year, after the fabulous flameout at Abramson, hardly inspires confidence the Atlas Foundation and Turquoise Council of Americans and Eurasians are up to any good.
Alario, Crowe and Kleckley ought to be publicly distancing themselves from this shindig and decrying the use of their names. The others? They’re Democrats. Nobody expects any better from them.
UPDATE: We get results, as we understand that Sen. Crowe has now pulled out of the Americans and Eurasians soiree.
Oh, and did we mention that the FBI is investigating the Gulen movement over allegations of hanky-panky with its charter schools?