Compiled by MCJ Editorial staff
“No further comment at this time.”
So read part of a statement by Milwaukee Public Schools regarding the federal charges against former MPS Board member and president Michael Bonds for his role in a bribery scheme that also involved two executives of Universal Companies, a non-profit education and real estate organization.
Noting it had been made aware of the federal charges against Bonds, the district declined further comment citing the matter was still an “ongoing federal investigation.”
According to Bonds lawyer, the former school board director will plead guilty of bribery and conspiracy charges.
Universal Companies is a 25-year-old Philadelphia-based entity founded by legendary Philadelphia music producer Kenny Gamble.
Gamble, who gained fame with partner Leon Huff in the 1970s for developing the distinctive “Sound of Philadelphia,” was not implicated in the filing and has not been accused of wrongdoing.
One of Universal’s top executives, former Universal CEO Rahim Islam, oversaw two charter schools in Milwaukee: the former Green Bay Avenue School and former Webster Middle School. Both school buildings had been vacant before Universal got MPS board approval to open independently-operated schools in the facilities.
A third school was added later, the former Lee School.
While in the city, Islam was active in the Black community. Not only was he running two schools, he was also a contributing columnist for a time at the Milwaukee Community Journal. He also had a radio talk show on WNOV 860AM.
According to Philadelphia news reports, Islam is one of the main figures in the bribery scheme.
The other Universal official allegedly involved is Shahied Dawan, who was reportedly relieved of his CFO and acting CEO position by Universal a few days after the news of the charges against Bonds broke.
In an interview, outgoing school board director Wendell Harris said it was unfortunate to see his former colleague in the situation he’s in, recalling Bonds’ contributions to education in the district’s schools.
“Dr. Bonds has done so much for children and education in Milwaukee—in public schools and on the university level (Bonds was an instructor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee). It’s unfortunate he finds himself in a situation such as this.”
Harris, who lost his reelection bid for the board in the April 2 elections, said he has no idea what led Bonds to do what he did. But Harris stressed, it shouldn’t overshadow his efforts to improve the quality of education for Milwaukee school children.
“He cared deeply about the children and education in the city, state, and nation. (Dr. Bonds) has a long history of fighting for children. My prayers go out to his family.”
According to news reports, the two former Universal officers allegedly paid kickbacks (to Bonds) to secure benefits for their charter school operations in Milwaukee, which was abandoned by Islam and Universal in 2017 in the middle of the school year.
Court documents indicate Bonds received payments shortly after supporting favorable measures for Universal- totaling at least $6,000. He’s accused of ignoring financial issues in support of the company.
Bonds reportedly disguised the bribes with a fake company and created fake invoices and records.
Bonds faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted and up to $518,000 in fines.
After backing out of its Milwaukee schools, Universal Academy was supposed to pay the district back about $1 million. Despite months of asking, the district reportedly hasn’t received any payments from the company.