Photo by Christina Santucci
By Joe Anuta

A tutoring company heavily involved in a Flushing high school was the subject of a May audit from city Comptroller John Liu, and it was pulled from doing business with the city this week after a separate inquiry by the city Department of Education.

Champion Learning Center is a Manhattan-based contractor previously hired by the city Department of Education for tutoring services to the tune of $27 million for one year. At John Bowne HS in Flushing, 787 students used the service last year, more than double the number of any other school in the city.

The city DOE said Tuesday evening that an investigation revealed the company underpaid its tutors while charging the city full price, costing taxpayers $5.2 million.

“For all procurements, citywide and DOE databases are reviewed to check for any prior concerns with a vendor,” DOE said in a statement. “All notable findings are brought to the attention of [DOE], and sometimes these companies are removed from final consideration.”

Ken Fisher, a lawyer for the company, said Champion Learning was not informed of the decision. It had repaid the $5.2 million years ago, he said, and has since worked with the city.

“They awarded a contract subsequent to that, so as far as we are concerned, all the issues have been resolved,” he said.

Liu’s May audit also found the company billed taxpayers $850,000 for allegedly suspect tutoring sessions.

“Our audit uncovered highly questionable bills that this company charged to the city, which were then paid by the DOE even with its anemic oversight of the company’s work,” Liu said. “The DOE shouldn’t pay them another penny of taxpayer money until the DOE can demonstrate it has corrected these serious problems.”

DOE said Champion repaid the city $836,000 that it owed, which was confirmed by the company.

“While we disagreed with some of the comptroller’s audit findings, the DOE has been fully reimbursed for the questioned items, which represented less than 3 percent of the services we provided, and we have strengthened our internal controls to ensure that all services are properly documented,” the school said in a statement.

Liu’s May audit found that the company billed the city for tutoring sessions at improbable times, like from midnight to 5 a.m. Other sessions occurred during hours that were prohibited during the contract, according to the audit.

“Taxpayers can’t afford to write multimillion-dollar blank checks for tutoring services that may not have taken place,” Liu said in May. “The city Department of Education’s lack of oversight not only shows serious mismanagement, but may have also enabled fraudulent billings.”

Champion took issue with many of the findings in the audit, and said in a response that the late-night session was the result of a typo and that it was not aware of prohibited times.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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