Marlboro College

In June 2020, Seth Andrew's Democracy Builders bought the former Marlboro College campus for $225,000 in cash and the assumption of $1.5 million debt the college owed to the Marlboro Music Festival. Andrew was arrested and removed from its board.

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NEW YORK CITY — In a 34-page statement submitted by his attorneys, Seth Andrew — the man behind a plan to reuse the former campus of Marlboro College as a charter school extension — asked a federal court judge to consider home confinement rather than prison for committing the crime of wire fraud.

“Seth has accepted full responsibility for his decisions,” wrote Edward Kim, of Krieger Kim & Lewin in New York City, and Timothy Doherty, of Down Rachlin Martin in Burlington.

According to information from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, Andrew stole $218,000 from Democracy Prep and used the money “to obtain a savings on a mortgage for a multimillion-dollar Manhattan apartment.”

According to his attorneys, Andrew, now 44, transferred funds without authorization from escrow accounts “in long dormant accounts” held by Democracy Prep to Democracy Builders Fund.

“At the time of the transfer, Seth had already poured far more personal funds into Democracy Builders Fund than he had ever received,” wrote Kim and Doherty. “In short, this was not an offense that was motivated by greed or a desire for personal enrichment. ... The conduct at issue in this case was a total departure from an otherwise exemplary life of service. It can only be described as completely out of character for Seth.”

In June 2020, Andrew co-founded a new venture, Democracy Builders, on the campus of Marlboro College. Democracy Builders bought the campus for $225,000 in cash and the assumption of $1.5 million debt the college owed to the Marlboro Music Festival. Following the sale of the campus, Marlboro College closed and merged with Emerson College in Boston. Democracy Builders established Degrees of Freedom on the campus, “a new kind of college model for students struggling to bridge the gap between high school and traditional four-year colleges, and one that would not burden its students with debt,” they wrote.

But Degrees of Freedom’s launch was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic and after Andrew was arrested and removed from its board, the program was shut down. The campus was eventually sold to Marlboro Music.

Seth and his wife Lana Zak, a CBS news anchor, donated and loaned their personal funds to DBF prior to the planned launch in September 2021, wrote Kim and Doherty, who also noted that their client “has also long since personally repaid Democracy Prep the amount of the funds that were transferred from the three school escrow accounts” and fulfilled his forfeiture obligation.

“Seth’s remorse is genuine and is evidenced by his actions,” wrote the attorneys, adding “Seth’s fall has been sufficiently catastrophic to him, his family, his finances, and his former colleagues, that no term of imprisonment is necessary to achieve general deterrence.”

Kim and Doherty wrote that Andrew’s actions were motivated by a concern that there was “fundamental financial mismanagement at the organization ...” including keeping escrow funds in non-interest-bearing accounts that had been “dormant for years.”

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“Seth had grown immensely frustrated as he watched Democracy Prep be forced to close its Washington, D.C. campus and move in directions that, in his view, diverged from its core mission,” they wrote. “In his mind, Democracy Prep was in danger of losing focus on the most vulnerable of its students. Seth increasingly did not see eye-to-eye with the current leadership or the board’s decisions on the best path forward ...”

Andrew had attempted to remedy the situation, they wrote, but after having his suggestions rejected, “Seth made a terrible decision, for which he fully accepts sole responsibility. ... As he acknowledged during his guilty plea, he transferred funds associated with three merged schools in the Democracy Prep network without authorization.”

Andrew used the $218,000 to qualify for a .125-percent interest rate deduction on a mortgage he was obtaining to purchase a Manhattan apartment.

“Seth did not spend any of the transferred funds for personal gain,” wrote Kim and Doherty. “Instead, in May of 2020 he transferred all of the funds to an account of Democracy Builders Fund at Bank. ... Critically, at the time he transferred the funds to Democracy Builders Fund, Seth had already contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars of his own funds in loans and donations to Democracy Builders Fund — far more than he had ever been paid by the organization. In short, Seth was not motivated by greed or a desire to enrich himself.”

Nonetheless, they wrote, “Seth recognizes and acknowledges the enormity of this mistake. He realizes that he was acting out of frustration and a desire to be proven right. ... Seth acknowledges that his inability to accept the board’s decision to make a change in leadership and his challenge relinquishing control of the organization directly led to his misguided actions.”

None of this excuses his actions, wrote Kim and Doherty, who noted their client “has lived an extraordinary life of service,” dedicating himself “to lifting up the neediest among us.”

After graduating from Brown University in Providence, R.I., and before founding Democracy Prep, Andrew taught in South Africa and South Korea. He returned to the United States for his master’s degree in school leadership and development from Harvard University, and in 2002 and then spent two years working as a special education teacher in Massachusetts.

In 2010, Andrew started the non-profit Democracy Builders, Inc., to help families and students advocate for policy changes and in 2013, Andrew took a job as a technology advisor in the U.S. Department of Education and the Obama White House.

“Given Seth’s history and characteristics, his acceptance of responsibility, the lack of a need for further deterrence, and the mitigating aspects of the offense conduct, including singular and unprecedented facts that make this case unlike any traditional fraud case, we respectfully ask the Court to take into account the entirety of Seth’s actions and sentence him to a period of home confinement, followed by three years’ probation.”

Andrew’s sentencing hearing is scheduled for July 28.

Bob Audette can be contacted at raudette@reformer.com.