After thousands of pages of investigation into allegations of fraud, a Garfield High School guidance counselor remains on the job. Some parents say he used school connections to attract investors.
A probe into the moral character of Garfield High School guidance counselor Ray Willis has been dismissed — despite findings that he fraudulently sold stocks without a license — because state investigators could find no evidence that those problems were connected to his work advising students.
The Office of Professional Practices (OPP) at the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction opened its examination of Willis after receiving a complaint from Seattle Public Schools, suggesting that Willis’ financial improprieties might have violated the “good moral character” requirements of his work at Garfield.
The seven-month inquiry generated thousands of pages, but Willis, who refused to be interviewed by investigators, remains on the job in Garfield’s counseling office.
“My personal opinion is that he’s maybe not a good role model for students,” said OPP director Catherine Slagle. “But there’s nothing we can discipline him for because we were unable to show that any of the people Mr. Willis contacted for his private businesses had a connection to the school.”
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That assertion puzzles Arthur Nelson, who said his daughter was on Willis’ caseload and invested $1,200 of her own money in the counselor’s skin-care business, AuJeune.
“He’d been talking about his company, and he was looking for investors,” Nelson said in an interview. “She told me we should do this, and I thought it was a good opportunity for her to begin understanding investments — and what can happen.”
No investigator from the state ever contacted Nelson, he said. Nor was his daughter Willis’ only Garfield-connected investor.
“I’m one of the ones he took money from — there’s about seven of us,” said Deborah Coleman, whose sons attended Garfield and met Willis there. “He’s been to our house and watched football with us. We were given stock certificates and all this stuff to lead us to believe we were investing in something legitimate. He had a story for everything.”
Willis did not return a call from The Seattle Times, seeking comment.
State regulators have already fined him $37,000 in penalties and associated legal costs for fraudulently selling securities.
In 2013, after an investor sued, Willis agreed to stop selling stock in AuJeune and a health-care company called Ra Ghala that was marketing a mammogram machine and a device to pick up pet waste.
Willis was the CEO of both firms, and financial regulators say he solicited more than $250,000 from 40 people to fund the two enterprises, targeting black investors in particular.
Coleman was among them, she said, investing $1,000, alongside a handful of her friends, all of whom gathered at the Colemans’ home to listen to him pitch AuJeune and Ra Ghala. Willis talked about the Microsoft Corporation, explaining how its early investors had become millionaires, said Adrina Gipson, who met him there.
“This was not any get-rich-quick scheme. We were in it for the long haul,” she said.
Another friend, Harnette Jones, invested $3,000 and received a certificate indicating she’d purchased 30,000 shares. All together, the women estimate they kicked in about $20,000.
But after a year without dividends, or any notice about his mounting legal problems, Willis stopped returning their calls, the women say.
“I think at one point he was probably legitimate,” said Denise Coleman, an aesthetician who did research for Willis. “But he got greedy or over his head, seeing how vulnerable people were.”