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Former Memphis Academy of Health Sciences leaders accused of stealing nearly $400,000 from charter school

Former Executive Director Corey Johnson, former Finance Director Robert Williams, and former Nutritional Services Director Michael Jones were indicted for theft.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The Tennessee Comptroller’s Office said three men who use to help lead the Memphis Academy of Health Sciences have been indicted, accused of stealing nearly $400,000 from the Shelby County charter school.

The comptroller said former Executive Director Corey Johnson, former Finance Director Robert Williams, and former Nutritional Services Director Michael Jones have each been indicted on theft charges. Investigators said the three combined misappropriated $398,365.27 from MAHS between July 2015 and February 2021.

According to investigators, Johnson used school debit cards, checks, wire transfers, and cash withdrawals to pocket at least $337,955.13 from the school. They said Johnson had $253,863.33 in personal purchases which included trips to Las Vegas, NBA tickets, a hot tub for his home, and other items and services.

Investigators said Johnson also received $84,091.80 in unauthorized compensation – from stipends, bonuses, duplicate and additional payroll payments, and salary payments that were more than his contracted amount.

Johnson was fired December 3, 2019.

Credit: Tennessee Comptroller's Office
Hot tub for home of former Memphis Academy of Health Sciences Executive Director Corey Johnson

Investigators said Williams received improper payroll payments that added up to at least $35,295.95. They said he “collected duplicate salary payments, excessive stipends and a questionable buy-back vacation payment.”

Williams was fired February 12, 2021.

Investigators said Jones made $21,586.05 in unauthorized food purchases for himself, which included shrimp, crab legs, ribeyes, salmon, catfish, and lobsters – all which are usually not served to students. They said he also used school money to pay for $3,528.14 in car repairs for himself and another employee’s vehicles.

Jones was fired September 28, 2020.

The comptroller said investigators also questioned another $400,521.45 in disbursements authorized by Johnson and Williams.

In November 2021, a Shelby County Grand Jury indicted Corey Johnson on one count of theft over $250,000 and one count of theft over $10,000; Robert Williams on one count of theft over $250,000; and Michael Jones on one count of theft over $10,000 and one count of theft over $2,500.

“These thefts were carried out over a period of four and-a-half years without scrutiny by the MAHS Board of Directors,” said Comptroller Jason Mumpower in a news release. “Board members have a duty to uphold the integrity and ethics of the organization under their oversight. Each board member has a fiduciary responsibility to ask tough questions, perform due diligence, and establish clear policies and internal controls related to financial activities.”

Johnson's lawyer Darrell O'Neal gave this response to the indictment:

The Law Offices of Darrell O'Neal have cooperated with The State of Tennessee all the way along in this investigation and are surprised at the “overreach in the investigation and the charges.” This office believes the charges have no merit and Mr. Johnson was authorized through MAHS, its board and the Chairman of the Board to take any and all actions that he did within his employment. 

Mr. Johnson is proud of the work he did while in service to the children and families of MAHS.  At the beginning of his tenure as Executive Director, the school’s students had a combined total of $1.7 million in college scholarships. At the time of his departure in 2019, scholarships to students had increased to nearly $30 million. This speaks to the hard work and commitment to excellence of the scholars, Mr. Johnson and his team.

Mr. Johnson’s concern continues to be for the students, faculty and larger MAHS community who are ultimately the ones hurt by this situation and misinformation. Mr. Johnson vehemently denies any wrongdoing and relishes the opportunity to have his day in court.

To view the investigative report, go to: https://comptroller.tn.gov/office-functions/investigations/find.html

If you suspect fraud, waste, or abuse of public money in Tennessee, call the Comptroller’s toll-free hotline at 800.232.5454, or file a report online at: tncot.cc/fraud. Follow us on twitter @TNCOT and Instagram @tncot.