Witness key to appeal by charter school firm CEO in Florida fraud case

A gavel (WDIV)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – An appeal by a former charter-school management company CEO convicted of racketeering and fraud could hinge on whether a circuit judge improperly prevented a witness from testifying.

A three-judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal heard arguments Tuesday in an appeal by Marcus May, whose company Newpoint Education Partners operated 15 charter schools in six Florida counties.

May was convicted in 2018 in Escambia County and sentenced to 20 years in prison after he was accused of fraudulent billing and engaging in kickbacks.

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Tuesday’s hearing focused almost exclusively on arguments about whether May’s planned expert witness, Adam McGill, was improperly barred from testifying during the trial.

William Ponall, an attorney for May, argued that the rejection of McGill’s testimony should result in a new trial for May.

Ponall said a witness for prosecutors was allowed to testify and that preventing McGill from testifying “completely deprived Mr. May of his defense in this case.”

But Assistant Attorney General Benjamin Hoffman contended that the circuit judge was playing a proper “gatekeeping function” in keeping unreliable evidence from going before the jury.

As is common, the appeals-court panel did not indicate when it will issue a ruling.

May, 59, was convicted of two counts of racketeering and one count of organized fraud and is an inmate at Lancaster Correctional Institution, according to the state Department of Corrections website.

The allegations against May included that he used his own company, Red Ignition, LLC, to sell items such as computer equipment at “exorbitant markups” to schools managed by Newpoint Education Partners, according to the brief by the attorney general’s office. Also, he was accused of receiving kickbacks from a friend who sold goods to the schools.