For months, a Florida principal believed she was exchanging online messages with Elon Musk, she said at a board meeting this week. Janet McGee trusted her online friend, so she wrote them a $100,000 check from school funds in hopes of receiving future donations, according to conversations from the board meeting.
However, McGee said she soon learned she was being tricked by someone impersonating Musk, one of the world’s wealthiest business executives. She publicly apologized Tuesday, saying she made a mistake. But after backlash from parents and administrators at Burns Science and Technology Charter School in Oak Hill, Fla., McGee resigned. Some of the school’s administrators had threatened to quit if McGee did not step down.
“I love this school more than anything else. If it means your administration is going to stay, I’m turning in my resignation,” McGee said as parents cheered in the school’s cafeteria.
McGee did not respond to requests for comment from The Washington Post.
Late last year, McGee said she began speaking with someone she believed to be Musk and soon developed a bond with him. Brent Appy, the school’s business manager, said at Tuesday’s meeting that he warned McGee it might be a scam.
For about four months, McGee conversed with the person, and Appy said she told colleagues she paid the person substantial amounts of money. Appy said he figured McGee was paying the person with her own money, but on March 6, he said he walked into McGee’s office and noticed a check was missing from a school account’s checkbook.
Appy said he went through the school’s bank accounts, expecting to see that McGee had spent a few thousand dollars. He said he was shocked when he saw that McGee had written a check for $100,000 to someone she believed to be Musk’s assistant.
Appy said he canceled the check, and McGee said she realized she was being scammed.
“Dr. McGee told this story multiple times about how she’s passionate, passionate for the school,” Appy said. “She was passionate, passionate for the scammer.”
At Tuesday’s packed meeting, some parents excused McGee’s actions, while others asked for her resignation. McGee, who has led Burns Science and Technology since it opened in August 2011, took accountability for her online communications and said she “made a bad decision.”
“I am a very smart lady, well-educated,” McGee said at the meeting. “I fell for a scam.”
Board chairman Albert Amalfitano told WESH that the scammer had promised McGee they’d contribute about $6 million to the STEM school near Florida’s Space Coast. McGee filed a police report to investigate the impostor, according to the board meeting’s agenda.
This wasn’t the first time Musk has been impersonated online. In May 2021, the Federal Trade Commission reported that Musk impostors had made more than $2 million from investors in cryptocurrency scams in the previous six months. Last May, Musk said on Twitter that a viral video of him appearing to promote a new cryptocurrency platform was fake.
In Florida, three administrators at Burns Science and Technology Charter School, including Appy, said they would resign if McGee kept her job.
“I will no longer stand behind this individual, as I also have integrity,” said Alexis Galerno, an assistant principal. “And I cannot continue to do this knowing that this is what’s happening.”
As parents stood to demand that McGee be dismissed, McGee requested the microphone from a board member. More than two-and-a-half hours into the meeting, McGee announced her resignation, grabbed her notebooks and walked out of the building as parents cheered.
Board members said they will conduct an investigation into McGee’s actions and start a nationwide search for a principal.