The state’s attorney general filed a compliance court order against the owners of Stone Academy Thursday after claiming they ignored civil investigative demands regarding their knowledge of the school’s academic and financial records.
Last month, Attorney General William Tong demanded that owners Joseph Bierbaum and Richard Scheinberg provide information about their involvement at the nursing school, which abruptly shut down its three campuses in February.
A news release from Tong’s office said the pair “failed to respond to or even acknowledge,” the demand which requested information about Bierbaum and Scheinberg’s role “in efforts to allow non-clinical assignments to count toward clinical instruction hours at Stone, efforts to ensure adequate student faculty ratios [and] efforts to ensure the accuracy of student transcripts.”
It also requested information on the school’s payroll, enrollment, staffing and attendance records. The deadline for the information was March 29.
Craig Raabe, an attorney representing Bierbaum and Scheinberg, said he hadn’t “seen the compliance order yet,” as of Thursday afternoon.
Until last year, Stone Academy was owned by Mark Scheinberg, the founder and president of Goodwin University in East Hartford. He was forced last May to divest and pay $1 million to resolve allegations that Stone had concealed a high rate of student loan defaults.
Stone now is held in a trust managed by Bierbaum, his son-in-law. Richard Scheinberg, his brother, also is a trustee.
Tong launched an initial investigation into the school for potential violations of the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act on February 23.
Just days prior to Tong’s investigation, the nursing school closed its doors amid questions about its examination passage rates, faculty qualifications and clinical training.
Since then, about 850 students have been unable to obtain their transcripts while the Office of Higher Education audits the academy’s records to determine the validity of its coursework. A back and forth battle about who would pay for the audit lasted several weeks between the Office of Higher Education and Stone before the state decided to front the cost.
“Stone took in millions of dollars in tuition from students who spent countless hours away from their families and jobs to become nurses and advance their careers. Stone utterly failed them,” Tong said. “What has happened to these students is a tragedy and I am beyond outraged on their behalf.”
In addition to requesting information from Bierbaum and Scheinberg, the initial demand in late February also requested information from the nursing school including:
- Tuition collected from each student;
- Marketing practices;
- Faculty qualifications;
- Accreditation materials;
- Student complaints;
- Communication between the school and students at the time of closing;
- Intentions for reimbursement;
- Communication between the school and students for how to proceed in the future.
The state says that Stone did respond to the initial demand, but that the documentation was “incomplete or missing information.”
Perry Rowthorn, a former deputy attorney general who represents Stone, said that the school has “cooperated extensively,” with Tong’s investigation by “providing tens of thousands of documents.”
“We believe the Attorney General was badly misinformed by the Office of Higher Education about the causes and circumstances leading to Stone’s closure. OHE bungled this matter from the beginning, misreading applicable facts and regulations, rashly requiring the school’s closure on short notice and prohibiting an orderly teach out of Stone students,” Rowthorn said in a written statement. “OHE now threatens to conduct a misguided and improperly funded audit of transcripts to illegally disenfranchise students of their hard-earned educational credits. We urge the State of Connecticut to protect vulnerable Stone students from OHE’s unlawful deprivation of their property and help ensure that they receive access to an appropriate teach out to continue their studies.”