LAUSD iPads: Federal grand jury probes after FBI seizes documents

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FBI agents on Monday seized 20 boxes of documents related to Los Angeles Unified School District's troubled iPad program. In response, Superintendent Ramon C. Cortines said he is canceling the contract. The documents go to a grand jury Friday morning.



Update 5:34 p.m. Feds subpoenaed dozens of records and documents; grand jury investigating

Federal prosecutors subpoenaed dozens of records and documents relating to the Los Angeles Unified School District’s iPad program, including emails, proposals and score sheets dealing with the bids that led to a multi-million Apple contract with the district.

KPCC has read the subpoena, which was by U.S. Attorney’s Office of Public Corruption and Civil Rights on Nov. 21. It requires the district to present the records at a grand jury on Friday morning or arrange to have the documents delivered.

The FBI seized 20 boxes of documents in connection with the investigation Monday.

LAUSD General Counsel David Holmquist made the subpoena available to reporters Tuesday.

The prosecutors specifically seek records about the tablet program, known as the Common Core Technology Project, including documents relating to Apple and the Pearson software company. The subpoena also calls for records from the district’s inspector general, who had investigated the iPad purchase.

Former LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy could not be reached for comment. He told the L.A. Times that he did not know about the investigation and had not been contacted by law enforcement agencies. Apple spokeswoman Trudy Muller declined to comment on whether Apple had been contacted by the FBI or had been asked for documents. Earlier, a spokesman for Pearson, a software subcontractor on the iPad project, said the company had no comment on whether it had been approached by the FBI or asked for any documents. 

—KPCC Staff

Update 3:20 p.m.: LAUSD will strike a new agreement with Apple

Los Angeles Unified School District will cancel a contract with Apple to provide iPads for students and strike a new agreement with the company in the wake of an FBI seizure of district documents related to the tablet program.

Superintendent Ramon Cortines said Tuesday that the current Apple contract is flawed and he will restart the procurement process for 27 more schools that are scheduled to receive the devices. 

The project to get tablets in the hands of every student began under Cortines’ predecessor, John Deasy.

Cortines initially said he would not go forward with the Apple contract, which was reached under Deasy. But last month, Cortines reversed himself and said the district would purchase iPads under the agreement. Now, in this latest development, with a federal investigation hanging overhead, Cortines has decided to set aside the Apple contract and start again.

“Due to the urgency of allowing our students to prepare for testing in the spring, we will continue with a different contract with Apple to provide iPads and a contract with another vendor, Arey Jones, to provide Chromebooks for the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium tests,” Cortines said, referring to the exams that students will take in the spring that are based on new Common Core standards.

“I have informed both the Board of Education and the Bond Oversight Committee of my decisions, and they are supportive,” Cortines said.

— KPCC Staff

Update 2:30 p.m.: UTLA says it welcomes investigation

The union representing teachers in Los Angeles said Tuesday it welcomed an investigation into how the school district awarded a technology contract to Apple.

The statement from United Teachers Los Angeles came just hours after it was revealed that FBI agents had seized documents related to the district's iPad program.

Union president Alex Caputo-Pearl blamed former superintendent John Deasy's "corporate reform agenda and autocratic management style" for the iPad scandal and for the district's recent scheduling crisis:

"The former Superintendent cannot escape the tough questions about the ill-fated iPad project.  He cannot simply resign and leave a mess for others to clean up. If this rises to the level of criminality, the former Superintendent must be held accountable for his actions."

The FBI has said that it cannot comment on the seizure of documents, citing the ongoing investigation.

Adam Winkler, law professor at UCLA School of Law, said it's too early to know which, if any, federal laws may have been violated by the district. But possible federal charges could include bribery, extortion, or things like denying the public to their right to honest services. 

"This was quite surprising that the federal government came and seized these documents," he said. "But the program's been in trouble from the get go."

Federal crackdowns on school districts aren't unprecedented, according to Winkler, he says it happens most often when school districts engage in things 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,” he said. 

Apple did not respond to requests to comment from KPCC.  In an email Brandon Pinette, senior public affairs manager at Pearson – the company that created the custom software for LA Unified's iPads, said they won't be commenting.

—KPCC Staff

Update 1:01 p.m.: Cortines canceling iPad contract

LAUSD Superintendent Ramon Cortines told reporters he is canceling a contract to purchase more iPads for students in the wake of the FBI's seizure of documents.

"Certainly with the FBI investigation, as it relates to procedures, I’m not going to use or continue a contract that might be questioned later,” he said. "See, I don’t know what the FBI is interested in, so I have to protect the district, protect the schools and that’s what I’m doing."

Multiple sources earlier confirmed to KPCC that federal agents had taken documents from the district on Monday. An FBI spokeswoman said she could not comment because the investigation is ongoing.

Cortines told reporters he does not know what the FBI confiscated or who might be the targets of the investigation. He said the district will cooperate with any investigation, which he called a “big deal.”

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

—KPCC Staff

Updated 11:41 a.m.: FBI probing LAUSD?

FBI agents on Monday seized boxes and boxes of documents related to Los Angeles Unified School District's troubled iPad program, but the exact subject of any potential federal investigation remains unclear.

On AirTalk, Loyola Law School professor and former federal prosecutor Laurie Levenson said seizing of the documents signals the FBI is early in its investigation.

She said there are many potential crimes that could explain why the FBI is launching a probe, including schemes to defraud, conflict of interest, public corruption, securities violations, and obstruction of justice.

“We don’t know any of these things,” Leveson said, but she said it makes sense to her that the FBI would get involved. But she added: “We should be careful not to say we know there is a crime here. We know the FBI is very much concerned."

A spokeswoman for the FBI said she could not comment because the investigation was ongoing.

Pearson, the textbook publishing company that created the custom software loaded onto the school iPads, told KPCC via an email from Brandon Pinette, senior public affairs manager, that they won’t be commenting on whether they've been approached at all by the FBI or whether they've handed over any documents.

—KPCC Staff

10:58 a.m.: Feds take iPad-related documents from LAUSD

FBI agents paid a surprise visit to the Los Angeles Unified School District on Monday, hauling away boxes of documents related to the school district's troubled iPad program, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Superintendent Ramon C. Cortines told the Times agents stopped by late Monday afternoon and he alerted the district's general counsel to notify the board of education.

Two sources who spoke with KPCC on condition of anonymity confirmed that agents arrived at the district Monday and took away the documents. One of the sources also confirmed Cortines’ statement to the Times that the agents took 20 boxes of documents related to the iPad purchases as part of the district’s one-to-one technology project.

The district has been under fire over its iPad program, which launched last school year with the aim of giving every student and teacher a personal tablet.

The district chose Apple and textbook publisher Pearson to provide the devices. It was expected to cost $1.3 billion.

An investigation from KPCC revealed that the district had been in talks with Apple and Pearson long before the bidding process was formally opened - and that some bid specifications closely resembled the iPad and Pearson's proposed software, which was still under development.

Former superintendent John Deasy canceled the contract and resigned under intense pressure after those stories aired and were published. 

—KPCC Staff

You can search the emails KPCC obtained here.

Timeline: LAUSD's troubled iPad program

This story has been updated.

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