Updated at 6 p.m. Feb. 9, 2013
Republican state Senate candidate Xanthi Gionis said Thursday that recent allegations against Aristotle University are “horrifically false” and “politically motivated.”
In a 20-minute press conference, Gionis responded to an NBC San Diego report that found the university she created in 2006 wasn’t certified with the state Bureau for Private Postsecondary and Vocational Education and lacked a business license in the city of Carlsbad.
She slammed what she called “reckless reporting" by NBC San Diego, which she called “an alleged investigative report that is full of erroneous, easily verifiable information.”
Thursday night, NBC7’s vice president of news responded to a Patch inquiry via email.
“We stand by our story,” said Greg Dawson, the NBC news chief.
Jacob O’Neill, campaign manager for Democratic rival Ben Hueso, would not address Gionis’ hints of manipulation, but said Friday via email: “The only thing I would say is that ‘Mr. Hueso is 100 percent committed to running a positive and successful campaign.’”
Gionis told reporters at San Diego City Hall that the Aristotle law school was certified with BPPVE until April 2012. Gionis said the city of Carlsbad also didn’t require the school to have a business license in 2006 and changed its laws recently because of “political pressures.”
But Thursday night, NBC San Diego noted that its story focused on the unaccredited and unlicensed Aristotle School of Public Health, whose students allege they attended classes once a week and were threatened with deportation if they didn’t pay tuition on time.
The BBB also gave the university an F rating for lack of accreditation.
“It would be counterintuitive to believe that we prepaid our lease for one year in the amount of some $30,000 only to attempt to avoid a city business license for a cost of approximately $100,” she said.
“Furthermore, let it be known that contrary to news reports, between 2007 and 2010, Aristotle University operated three law schools which were fully registered with the State Bar of [California] and our graduates were eligible for licensure to practice law in the state.”
She also said a former student, Albert Anarwat, who spoke out against the school, is a “very skilled liar.” Anarwat told NBC San Diego the school scammed him out of thousands of dollars and recruited him from Ghana.
Gionis said Anarwat, who attempted to earn his masters, “remains in the U.S. in violation of the requirements of his student visa” and “was dismissed from Aristotle University as a result of his failure to attend classes on a regular basis.”
“Mr. Anarwat’s dishonesty goes beyond the bounds of human decency,” she said.
She also claimed that Anarwat came to the school from Michigan, not directly from Ghana as reported by NBC San Diego. When Anarwat was “dismissed” from the school, the university terminated his visa, Gionis said.
“Mr. Anarwat, a liar and unstable individual, remains in the United States and is working illegally,” she said.
Gionis said her students have also been “harassed” by reporters and one student also “broke down in front of fellow students after a Channel 7 NBC reporter attempted to interrupt their classes last Monday.”
Other students, who allegedly were sent hundreds of text messages by unspecified individuals*, have changed their cell phone numbers, Gionis said.
“The students of Aristotle University have been harassed by individuals of the press and individuals with the intention of interfering with the contractual relations of the university,” she said. “Many of the students have reported being pressured by outside forces to make false allegation against the university.”
Gionis said she felt the need to hold a press conference because it was “important” to address the allegations.
“It is important this day for me to stand up for my former and current students, as I would in Sacramento as a representative of my constituency. Before I begin addressing the accusations, I would like to say that the allegations made against me are clearly politically motivated and the subject of reckless reporting,” she said, urging voters to remember her on March 12.
“I believe very strongly in my heart that both my students and the public deserve better and that is why I am here today.”
In 2011 and 2012, Gionis was sued seven times in San Diego Superior Court, resulting in at least one small-claims judgment against her, online records show.
The court ordered Gionis to pay former Aristotle University teacher Karin Tausan $7,648, which Tausan told NBC San Diego were for loans to Gionis’ campaign.
Last November, Judge John Meyer in San Diego Superior Court dismissed a case involving a $30,000 suit by Pacifica Health and Medical after an out-of-court settlement between that nursing-services provider and Gionis.
Gionis is running in a special election against Democratic Assemblyman Ben Hueso and fellow Republican Hector Gastelum to fill the Senate seat left vacant by Juan Vargas, who won election to Congress in the district once served by Bob Filner.
She also ran for Congress in the 51st district and was endorsed by the local Republican Party. She lives in Chula Vista, according to online records.
After reading a nearly 2,000-word statement, Gionis answered few questions and hurried away into the Civic Center Plaza building while still wearing a small NBC microphone.
She surrendered the wireless microphone after several shouted reminders.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that NBC San Diego sent students hundreds of text messages. The source of the text messages wasn’t specified by Gionis.