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Turkish schools in US involved in suspicious money transactions, New York Times reports

ISTANBUL – Daily News with wires | 6/7/2011 12:00:00 AM |

Activities of a school group in Texas are raising questions about whether the schools are using US taxpayer dollars to benefit the Gülen religious movement, the New York Times reported Tuesday.

Activities of a school group in Texas are raising questions about whether the schools are using U.S. taxpayer dollars to benefit the Fethullah Gülen religious movement, the New York Times reported Tuesday.

The Harmony Schools in Texas contribute by giving business to followers of Gülen, a Turkish scholar who resides in the U.S., or through financial arrangements with local foundations promoting Gülen’s teachings and Turkish culture, according to the report.

The report highlights a particularly suspicious case in which TDM Contracting, a one-month-old company, won its first job to build the Harmony School of Innovation, a publicly financed charter school that opened last fall in San Antonio, for $8.2 million.

“It was one of six big charter school contracts that TDM and another start-up company have shared since January 2009 - a total of $50 million in construction business,” wrote the New York Times.

According to Soner Tarım, the superintendent of the 33 Texas schools, the schools follow all competitive bidding rules and in many cases, Turkish-owned companies have been the low bidders.

However, records show that virtually all recent construction and renovation work has been done by Turkish-owned contractors, according to the New York Times.

“It kind of boils my blood a little bit, all the money that was spent, when I know it could have been done for less,” said Deborah Jones, an owner of DAJ Construction, one of four lower bidders who failed to win a recent school renovation contract in the Austin area.

Speaking to the New York Times, Osman Özgüç, a TDM principal, denied any wrongdoing.

“I provided all the requirements asked in the bid. And when we got the job, we delivered in a very short time period, and with a very economic result,” he said, but acknowledged that changed orders had added about $1 million to the cost.

The report also highlighted another controversy involving the schools that centers on the hundreds of Turkish teachers and administrators working with special visas. Those visas are required for highly skilled foreign workers who fill a need the American workforce cannot meet.

Some teachers and their unions, as well as immigration experts, have questioned how earnestly the schools have worked to recruit American workers, the report said.

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