Wright was made head basketball coach. He also scored a couple of new titles: principal and director. Unfettered by background checks, he handpicked old friends for his coaching staff.

Jerome Duane Smith — whom everybody called "J" — was a small, gopher-looking fellow and Wright's twin when it came to lofty basketball aspirations. They cofounded two organizations, neither of which appears to have come to any fruition — Northwest Youth Management and South Florida Hall of Fame — and Smith filed papers for a nonprofit called the CLA Booster Club. "Basketball was J's get-rich-quick scheme," says former CLA athletic director Derrick "Hevy" Williams, an enormous, round-bellied man who wears an Africa pendant. "He had a dream to set up a youth basketball league all around the country."

Wright and Smith's companies were registered to Smith's mother's house in Miami Gardens, unbeknownst to her. Mom's reaction when a reporter showed her the incorporation records: "Oh, hell no!"

The rest of the coaching staff was a motley bunch, all searching for their break. Thaddeus Ambrose was one of the basketball players deemed ineligible from that 1998 Miami High team, when he was a senior. Devell King was a full-time garbage collector with a criminal record including battery and vehicle title fraud, who while employed by CLA in 2008 allegedly assaulted a cop whose squad car was blocking his rubbish truck. Charles Jackson was a 320-pound, down-on-his-luck former Los Angeles Raider who slept at the men's homeless shelter when his mom wouldn't have him.

With his ragtag army assembled, Wright got to work. CLA's yearly win-loss records and rosters indicate a crescendo of ambition. In the 2006-07 season, the team was composed mostly of local students and finished a very respectable 16-5. The next year, Wright picked up a handful of Puerto Rican ringers, including Gierboli, and finished a game out of the state finals.

Puerto Rican students don't require student visas, known as I-20s, to play in the States. Before the 2008-09 season, Wright and Smith — whom Derrick Williams calls "the I-20 man" — decided to no longer be limited by U.S. territories. "They were greedy," Williams says, rubbing his palms together as if in simulation. "After the team did so well in 2008, they were like, 'Let's get it popping with the overseas players.'"


But even before such popping commenced, Sheldon Brown smelled a rat. In August 2007, the then-32-year-old educator was hired as the school's head teacher for $28,000 a year.  He also taught night classes and coached track. Brown, who taught previously in Broward and Miami-Dade public schools, is short, trim, and normally soft-spoken. But, as CLA administrators would learn, he's prone to vengeance. "I always told them," he says, "you're going to be hearing from Mr. Brown."

Roughly 85 percent of the students at CLA, including his niece, were there on state learning-disability grants known as McKay and Florida PRIDE Scholarships, Brown says. The teacher knew the school was receiving as much as $3,000 per month for each kid's tuition and, with 130 students enrolled, had more than enough cash for proper supplies. But the school had taken to purchasing outdated textbooks from a book depot for as little as a dollar each.

Brown approached Rushae Sweeting. "The state's giving us money to buy these kids' new books," he told her. "Why don't we use it?" But, says Brown, "she didn't want to hear it."

Within two months of his hiring, a schoolhouse Bay of Pigs broke out between Brown and Sweeting, full of lobbed insults, questionable court filings, and eventually a bombshell.

The battle featured publicly recorded accusations from both of them: She called him "gay" in front of students and colleagues and said he went to a "gay nightclub" and "acted like a girl." Brown responded by showing up at her office with his wife and telling Sweeting: "I got something for you." After asserting his heterosexuality, he filed a discrimination complaint with the EEOC, arguing he was being treated badly for being male. Sweeting fired him a week later, on November 5. (Her reason: "ineffective job performance.") He stalked her at work and on the phone, at one point vowing, "Bitch, you're going to get yours, and I promise you that."

Brown filed a lawsuit, which was confidentially settled, for violating his one-year teaching contract and slandering him on the public record. And on November 9, he sent a tip to the Florida Department of Education (DOE) containing detailed information about how the school was fleecing the state: When students on learning-disability scholarships dropped out or transferred, CLA's administrators simply doctored attendance records in order to continue receiving state cash.

The agency eventually substantiated the claims of fraud, pinpointing three students for whom tuition was collected from the state long after they were gone. The school had raked in $2,800 a month for several months after one student dropped out. Another was enrolled at CLA for exactly a day before enrolling in a public school, yet the academy still pocketed $2,959 for the entire month.

The caper was accomplished through forgery. The DOE investigator found eight cases in which guardians claimed they hadn't seen scholarship documents or attendance cards where their signatures appeared. The signatures were often scrawled in three different handwriting styles over the months, the investigator discovered, implying that several administrators were in on the scheme.

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10 comments
zhenglishu
zhenglishu

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JJFLOJ
JJFLOJ

HOW DOES MIAMI AND THE FSHSL PUT UP WITH THIS?IT IS A DISGRACE TO FLORIDA AND BASKETBALL!!!!

Ttsturrup
Ttsturrup

fhsaa and everyknows bernard wright got the players for shakey and frank martin since the 90''s.

Beware6876
Beware6876

The Times should do more investigation of President Of Global Academy " Jeffrey L. Wells", thats the crack head in the story

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Ttsturrup
Ttsturrup

bernard wright used to be asst. at carol city high with coach bell.coach bell was my teacher at carol city middle.

Goober
Goober

I must say this is one of the greatest stories I have ever read. What pure insanity

MNT Fan
MNT Fan

This is the Miami New Times I know and love.

Awesome hit piece!

 
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