The founders of a highly touted charter school in Houston have been accused of embezzling $2.6 million from public funds.

“Five years ago, congratulatory letters poured in from politicians after the Varnett charter school in Houston won a federal “blue ribbon” award for its academic record. It was a standout among schools serving mostly poor, minority children.

“Marian Annette Cluff was the school’s founding and longtime superintendent. Her husband, Alsie Cluff Jr., was the facilities and operations manager.

“The once-heralded couple now faces potential prison sentences and fines after a 19-count indictment, announced Thursday by federal prosecutors, accused them of operating secret bank accounts and pocketing more than $1 million from parents for field trips and school fundraisers. The Cluffs are accused of embezzling more than $2.6 million intended to benefit the impoverished students they enrolled.

“The couple and their son and daughter earned more than $626,000 combined from Varnett in the 2013-2014 school year, according to state records, and the Cluffs own a south Houston home appraised at $1.7 million.”