By Connie Llanos, Staff Writer | LA Daily News
8/13/2010 | 7:44:52 PM PDT -- A $995 CD set on "how to avoid paying taxes" was among the items an Ivy Academia charter school official purchased with more than $200,000 in misused public funds, authorities alleged in court documents unsealed this week.
The husband-and-wife team that runs the high-performing West Valley charter school was charged in June by the Los Angeles District Attorney's Public Integrity Division with 38 felony and misdemeanor crimes, including misuse of public funds, embezzlement, money laundering and tax fraud.
Eugene Selivanov, 38, and his wife, Tatyana Berkovich, 32, operate Ivy Academia, an independently run charter school in the West San Fernando Valley that is funded with state and federal dollars.
The couple has temporarily stepped down from the school's board of directors and will remove themselves from day-to-day operations when a new interim director is in place, at least for the course of the trial, district officials and the couple's attorney said Friday.
Selivanov and Berkovich were unavailable for comment Friday, but their attorneys said the couple are innocent of all charges.
"We are confident the evidence will reveal that Eugene and Tatyana have always acted in the best interest of Ivy, its students and families," said Jeff Rutherford, with the firm Crowell & Moring.
Affidavits unsealed by the District Attorney's office this week allege that Selivanov transferred public funds to for-profit company bank accounts and to himself, and used public funds to pay credit-card bills not tied to the schools.
For example on May 25, 2007, the documents said, Selivanov wrote a check for $50,000 from Ivy Academia's Support Fund Account — set up to collect donations for the public school — to Ivy Academia's general account.
On the same day Selivanov wrote a check for $30,000 from Ivy Academia's account to Egeneration LLC, the bank account for one of the couple's private businesses, and later wrote a check to himself from that account for $30,000 that was later deposited in his personal bank account, the documents said.
On May 30, 2007, Selivanov transferred $24,000 from his personal account to pay Citibank credit card charges, the documents said.
Investigators dug through boxes of bank and credit card statements, receipts and tax documents confiscated from the couple's West Valley home, their accountant's house and their four school campuses.
They describe finding "questionable charges" totaling some $96,000 on the couple's American Express credit card, including $3,000 for a community property investment seminar, $995 for the CD set, and about $9,000 in restaurant charges for more than 100 restaurants.
"Statements reflect that the American Express credit card charges were paid with public funds," documents said.
Attorneys for the couple filed a motion Friday to dismiss 14 of the 38 charges, including all American Express and tax-related charges.
Ivy Academia operates four campuses, in Woodland Hills, Winnetka, West Hills and Chatsworth, that serve 1,100 students from kindergarten to 12th grade.
Allegations of misuse and co-mingling of public funds first arose against Selivanov and Berkovich in an LAUSD Inspector General audit in 2007. Even after that, however, LAUSD officials gave Ivy a five-year renewal in June 2008.
Los Angeles Unified officials recently called for the couple to step down from managing day-to-day operations at Ivy Academia and abandon their positions on the school's board of directors to avoid being shut down for as long as they are being investigated for the criminal charges.
Parker Hudnut, LAUSD's executive director of innovation and charter schools, said Berkovich and Selivanov have stepped down from Ivy Academia's board of directors and have hired an interim executive director.
"Unless sufficient safeguards are in place to protect public funds... LAUSD retains its right to proceed to revocation," Superintendent Ramon Cortines said in a written statement.
"I am insisting that we keep an even closer eye on Ivy Academia — if it continues to operate."
Hudnut sought to reassure parents of the school.
"We don't want parents scared that we are going to arbitrarily shut down their school," Hudnut said.
"As long as Ivy cooperates with our demands and the ongoing work, the school will remain open."
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