Ex-White House adviser Seth Andrew was sentenced to one year in prison Thursday for stealing more than $218,000 from the network of New York City charter schools he founded.
Seth Andrew, 43, started Democracy Prep, a nationally recognized network of publicly funded, privately run charter schools, in 2005. He left the job in 2013 and worked three years in the federal Education Department and White House. But by 2019, Andrew was eager to return to Democracy Prep at a cushy salary of $25,000 per month — plus expenses and a $250,000 bonus if he met certain objectives — prosecutors said.
When Democracy Prep rejected the offer, Andrew stole from the charter schools he’d built.
“Seth Andrew was sentenced today for stealing from those who once trusted him. Andrew committed this crime to attempt to punish nonprofit charter schools because they declined his offer to return as their leader. Thankfully, the victim of Andrew’s crime was resilient, and its important work continues,” Manhattan U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said.
Democracy Prep won national acclaim in its early years for high test scores and an emphasis on civic engagement. Andrew was recognized as a Daily News Hometown Hero. The network was part of the “no excuses” model of education reform that prized strict academics and test scores — a legacy Democracy Prep’s current leadership says it’s trying to leave behind.
“I am profoundly sorry and ask for your forgiveness,” Andrew said in Manhattan Federal Court, adding that he wished to become more “disciplined.”
“I am solely accountable for the decision to transfer the funds the government identified.”
The current administrators of Democracy Prep had little sympathy.
“Mr. Andrew’s crime was and is a profound betrayal of our schools, our values and everything we teach our scholars about being responsible and caring citizens,” the school wrote in a letter to the court. “Given the severe disciplinary policies he employed toward students when he ran the organization, policies we have since reversed, his plea for special treatment before the court is ironic and hypocritical.”
Evidence showed Andrew had tried to play hardball when trying to negotiate his return.
“Every single day that goes by, this situation becomes exponentially more difficult and the ability to pull out of a nosedive becomes harder. So after 24 hours, my monthly salary expectation will go up every day that we’re not under a signed contract,” he wrote.
Andrew used the stolen money to help buy a property in Vermont for another education non-profit he ran, Democracy Builders. While the money sat in accounts he controlled, Andrew also qualified for a more favorable mortgage on a $2.3 million luxury apartment with views of Central Park that he shared with his wife, prosecutors said.
Prosecutors described Andrew’s raid of the Democracy Prep accounts as an act of “revenge.”
Andrew came under federal scrutiny in 2019 when network leaders noticed money missing from escrow accounts that charter schools are legally required to maintain in the event they close. Investigators obtained surveillance images from a bank showing Andrew wearing his signature Democracy Prep yellow cap while he stole the money.
“He didn’t go on a vacation, he didn’t buy a car,” Judge John Cronan said. “There certainly was ego and frustration involved and a lot of arrogance. … In some form, it was to punish a nonprofit. And not just any nonprofit, one that Mr. Andrew had built.”
The total sentence was one year and one day, which gives Andrew the chance to get out early with good behavior.
Andrew’s lawyers cited his life of public service and quick repayment of the stolen money.
But Cronan said Andrew had been given opportunities that most criminals never receive. Andrew attended the prestigious Bronx High School of Science, Brown University and Harvard University.
“These are opportunities that few people have,” Cronan said. “There was no question that Mr. Andrew knew better and made a very conscious decision to break the law.”