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Federal judge agrees with Grand Traverse Academy in Ingersoll case

Peter Payette

Judge Thomas Ludington says Steven Ingersoll is guilty of “sloppy bookkeeping practices.”

But in an opinion released today, Ludington says Ingersoll, the former manager of Grand Traverse Academy, did not lie about his finances and did not abuse his power when he was the manager of the public charter school near Traverse City.

The opinion nearly ends a two-year old criminal case against the optometrist that found him guilty of tax evasion. Based on the order, Ingersoll’s attorney Jan Geht expects his client will be sentenced to two or three years of prison instead of five. Sentencing is scheduled for December.

Geht says the order shows his client was not a criminal mastermind but someone who got bad accounting advice.

“It’s more a case of a guy who is trying to juggle too many balls,” says Geht.

Federal attorneys accused Ingersoll of taking money illegally from Grand Traverse Academy. When he cut ties with the school he founded, he owed it $1.6 million.

Ingersoll and officials at Grand Traverse Academy say the money was a rebate his management firm offered the academy when the school was having financial difficulties, a discount on his management fees that he never actually gave to the school.

Judge Ludington said what he heard during the sentencing hearing confirmed that view of the missing money. In the order, Ludington quotes extensively from the academy’s website.

Ludington characterizes Ingersoll as motivated, at least partly, by a desire to develop the schools he had designed around his visual learning theory. The judge says this caused him to “knowingly disregard legal responsibilities” including basic accounting requirements.

Jan Geht says they had always maintained that Ingersoll’s legal problems had nothing to do with Grand Traverse Academy.

“This was a private tax problem of Dr. Ingersoll’s,” says Geht.

Disclosure: Jan Geht's law firm, Bowerman, Bowden, Ford, Clulo & Luyt, is an underwriter of Interlochen Public Radio.

Peter Payette is the Executive Director of Interlochen Public Radio.