Mr. Amsterdam was appointed by the Republic of Turkey to oversee an international investigation into the activities of Fethullah Gülen
For many, the events of July 15-16 in Turkey seem like something out of a bad action movie. Fighter jets seized by a rogue division of the military strafing the rooftops of the capital and bombing parliament, tanks occupying the Bosphorus bridge, troops taking over TV stations, and tactical units hunting down the president.
It seemed impossible that such an event could take place in a nuclear-armed NATO alliance member of 80 million people. But sadly, this horrific attack on the democratically-elected government was all too real, and the consequences–including some 238 people killed and thousands injured–will likely take years of recovery.
The man identified as responsible
The aftermath of the attempted coup has put a renewed focus on U.S.-Turkey relations, as the man identified as responsible is the secretive Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen, who oversees a worldwide organization from his mansion in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania. Turkey has issued a warrant for his arrest and is requesting his extradition from the United States.
Mr. Gülen denies his involvement in the coup, and his many supporters claim that he would be incapable of such a heinous act. His lawyers further speculate that he couldn’t have plotted the coup because he is likely under intense surveillance by intelligence agencies, and as such, they would have known.
However, if one takes a closer look at how he runs his 150 charter schools through dozens of secretive fronts, it is clear that there is a highly-sophisticated organizational capacity hidden beneath the surface.
Seven months ago, my law firm was appointed by the Republic of Turkey to investigate suspected illegal activities by Gülen-linked businesses and schools. What we have found thus far is shocking.
Whistleblowers have informed us that the Gülen organization maintains a rigid hierarchy through which instructions are handed down, usually in face-to-face meetings with Gülen himself in the Poconos. At the top, there is a seven-member governing group (Istisare Grubu), which passes instructions to the consultative committee, which then sends orders to a series of regional imams, down to country imams, regional imams, provincial imams, city imams, district imams, neighborhood imams, imams of the student houses (Işık Evleri), and then students. Businessmen, bureaucrats and military officers all operate at varying levels according to their position and buy in.
Gülen, however, rarely speaks in the imperative. According to one Gülenist interviewed by academic Joshua Hendrick in his book, Gülen: The Ambiguous Politics of Market Islam in Turkey and the World, orders are passed down via vague suggestions to be interpreted by his members: “He [Gülen] says, ‘It would be good if it is done,’ he never says, ‘It must be done’ (…) Or he says, for example … ‘Why don’t you open a bank?’ [But] he never says ‘you’ [meaning a specific person] (…) if he [Gülen] says something, they believe that it is very important, and we have to do it.”
But Gülen’s followers have opened a lot more than just banks. Working through these seemingly-impenetrable layers of non-accountability, Gülen’s followers have established some 55,000 businesses worldwide and made themselves the largest charter school operator in the United States, receiving tens of millions of dollars in taxpayer funds every year, which in many cases are then redirected between and amongst themselves and to selected contractors.
Illegal tributes in U.S. charter schools
One example can be found at California’s Magnolia Public Schools, which was caught handing out a $700,000 annual contract to a Gülen-affiliated contractor sharing its own office space, founded by Magnolia’s then CEO. The CEO then left Magnolia that same year to resume leadership of the contractor he founded, benefiting extensively from his earlier decision to sign that contract. Furthermore, audits conducted by one of Magnolia’s sponsors, LAUSD, questioned whether the contractor was actually providing any services to Magnolia. These kinds of self-dealing arrangements that benefit high-level Gülen members have been documented in every Gülen charter network we’ve investigated so far.
In Oklahoma, a state audit found that Dove Science Academy was overpayingits Gülen landlord by more than $3.1 million. Even more shocking, the auditors found that the Dove Science governing board was one and the same as the landlord’s governing board. With the same group of Turkish Gülenists on both sides of the transaction, Oklahoma’s public funds were siphoned out of the charter schools they were intended to support and funneled through the landlord entity for other purposes. One such purpose included an inexplicable $175,000 payment to the Harmony Public Schools charter network in Texas to support a competition that no Dove students attended or participated in.
These illegal tributes are common from smaller Gülen charter networks to Harmony Public Schools, Gülen’s largest operation with 46 schools currently open and another fifteen slated to open over the next two years. They come in the form of payments for licensing software and curriculum Harmony is supposed to provide for free per the terms of its Race to the Top funding and consulting fees for Harmony’s fee-based mentorship. When Gülenists from these smaller networks level up within the Gülen organization, they’re often transferred to Harmony as a promotion, which is odd considering Harmony is supposed to be mentoring these networks, not taking their employees.
Harmony recently entered into a baffling arrangement to overpay its own Gülen landlord entity by $18 million for bonds on new school construction. The brand-new landlord entity, of course, is run by the former budget director of Harmony. The New York Times has previously reported on the similar story of Solidarity Contracting, which landed a lucrative $8.2 million construction contract with Harmony when it was a month-old company with zero revenue and zero experience, run in that case by Harmony’s former business manager.
These charter networks deny affiliation with Gülen despite the fact that they are run exclusively by known Gülenists and contract almost exclusively with Gülenist businesses. The ties are easy to find–tax forms, corporation documents, bond statements and other documents in the public record–identify the same cadre of Gülenists in leadership positions at both charter networks, the vendors that support them, and Gülenist cultural associations. Working in collaboration, these Gülenists successfully remove funds from public education and use them to enrich each other and their overall agenda. These isolated examples discussed above total allegedly almost $28 million of misappropriated U.S. taxpayer dollars, and yet that is barely scratching the surface of what we’ve already found so far.
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