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Attorney of self proclaimed “whistleblower” speaks to 48 News following Tuesday’s indictment

Updated: Feb. 24, 2021 at 6:40 PM CST
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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WAFF) - On Wednesday, the attorney of the man who claims he is the whistleblower of a multi-year greed-driven scheme in Limestone County tells 48 News his client, who was trying to do the right thing by alerting the authorities, has been treated as a villain as if he was the one doing wrong.

Attorney Shane Sears who represents former Limestone County Human Resources Director Doctor Mark Isley spoke with our Kate Smith about the investigation.

According to Sears, Mark Isley was placed on leave by the Limestone County Board of Education in January of 2020 only a few months after Isley began speaking with FBI agents regarding inaccurate numbers reported by school administrators.

Because of this investigation Sears said Isley has lost his livelihood.

“Why is all this money going over here, when it should be going over here? Or why is the state paying all this money to us and we are not using it?”

Those were the questions Dr. Mark Isley had asked for years while working in the Limestone County School District. “He said somebody explain it to me and he was told to shut up,” said Sears. “He was told not to ask questions.”

Isley was in tears Tuesday, when 48 News contacted him about the indictment against his former boss Tom Sisk and five other state educators. His attorney said the indictment has been a long time coming.

“His reputation has been ruined as a result. Now almost a year two years later, he has been proven to be correct.”

Sears said Isley began reporting figures to the FBI when he realized numbers weren’t adding up within the Limestone County School District and when the school refused to reconcile the difference.

On Tuesday, a federal indictment named: former Limestone County Superintendent Tom Sisk, former Athens City Superintendent Trey Holladay, Holladay’s wife retired Athens city schoolteacher Deborah Holladay, current Executive Director of Planning for Athens City Schools Rick Carter, and two longtime friends of the Holladays.

They allegedly were part of a multiyear scheme involving taxpayers’ money and private school students.

“To keep this fraud from being brought to light, the defendants went as far to create fake report cards, transcripts and even home addresses and report those to the state department of education. The defendants personally enriched themselves either through questionable contracts or cash payments made under the table,” said U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Alabama, Louis V. Franklin.

Investigators said the state overpaid Athens City Schools almost six million dollars and was almost schemed out another million allegedly by Sisk.

Isley has less than two years remaining before he is eligible for state retirement, but according to Sears this situation has destroyed his name after a lifelong career in education. Isley has not been able to secure another job.

Sears said unfortunately it is the price of doing the right thing. “No good deed goes unpunished and that is really what happened with Mark…”

48 News asked Doctor Eric Mackey, the state school superintendent, about what the state department is doing to get Isley re-employed. Doctor Mackey said the state department had no obligation to find Isley a job.

On Tuesday Limestone County Schools released a response to the indictment:

“On Tuesday, February 23, 2021, Limestone County Schools learned it was mentioned in an indictment for involvement with a virtual school program during the 2016-2017 school year. While the school system was mentioned in the indictment brought in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Alabama, the indictment does not name the Limestone County Board of Education or anyone currently involved with Limestone County Schools as defendants. In fact, as mentioned during the Justice Department’s press conference, the indictment does not include any current Limestone County School employees. Moving forward, we will be a transparent and accountable school system which provides the best educational experience we can for our students.”

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