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LAUSD iPad purchases subject of federal criminal probe

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A federal grand jury will meet Friday to review evidence regarding the Los Angeles Unified School District's handling of its $1.3 billion iPad program, documents show.

In a sweeping subpoena issued Nov. 21, the U.S. Attorney's public corruption office sought dozens of records from the school district, naming documents specifically tied to computer giant Apple and Pearson, the publisher of the software loaded onto each device.

The investigation came as a surprise to district officials and will delay the rollout of iPads to more students in the district. 

Superintendent Ramon Cortines said he first learned about the investigation when 20 boxes of documents were seized by FBI agents Monday afternoon.

"I’m doing everything to put things in order in this district," Cortines said Tuesday. "And because there is an investigation doesn’t mean something is necessarily wrong."

In August, KPCC published a series of emails pointing to close relationships former Superintendent John Deasy maintained with executives of Apple and Pearson. The communications before the official bidding on the iPad contract raised questions about whether the process was a fair one, as Deasy has maintained.

The targets of the criminal investigation have not been named, but the subpoena requires the district to produce documents on all employees and anyone else involved in reviewing the bids that led the district to award a $500 million contract to Apple and its subcontractor, Pearson.

Deasy was the driving force behind the program to place an iPad in the hands of every one of the district's 650,000 students, but it is not clear if he is the focus of the grand jury investigation.

Deasy could not be reached for comment, but he told the Los Angeles Times that he did not know about the investigation and had not been contacted by law enforcement agencies.

Federal crackdowns on school districts aren't unprecedented, according to UCLA law professor Adam Winkler. He said it happens most often when school districts engage in activity like corrupt contracting or civil rights violations.

"It’s generally pretty rare for the federal government to crack down on a major school district, especially on such a high profile program like the iPad purchasing program,” Wrinkler said. 

On Tuesday, following the FBI records seizure, Cortines said the district would no longer purchase iPads under the Apple contract, which he called flawed. He plans to meet Wednesday with principals  of 27 schools that will no longer receive iPads or Chromebooks as scheduled.

The subpoena, made available to KPCC by district General Counsel David Holmquist, require the documents be available for grand jury meeting Friday at the North Spring Street federal courthouse.

Apple spokeswoman Trudy Muller declined to comment on whether Apple had been contacted by the FBI or had been asked for documents. A spokesman for Pearson also said the company had no comment on whether it had been approached by authorities regarding LAUSD's program.

KPCC education reporter Mary Plummer contributed to this report.

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