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Former Shakopee superintendent gets two years for soliciting bribes

ST. PAUL — Former Shakopee Superintendent Rod Thompson was sentenced March 29 in federal court to 24 months in prison for soliciting bribes from the company that managed the $102 million Shakopee High School expansion.

In mid-November, Thompson pleaded guilty to federal charges that he used his position and authority as superintendent from 2011 to June 2017 to obtain personal benefits from ICS Consulting. He will begin serving his time April 25, and then be sentenced in Shakopee on May 3 for additional state embezzling crimes.

That was the prison sentence recommended by the prosecution and defense, in accordance with a plea agreement in which Thompson is expected to get the same sentence in a separate state case in May. Thompson made a plea agreement to serve 24 months for both the state and federal crimes and can only appeal if he’s sentenced to more than that.

Before he was sentenced, Thompson told the judge he’s spent the past two years “soul-searching and reflecting.”

“I am not a victim,” he said during the sentencing hearing. “I am someone who has done wrong.”

He broke down while explaining his desire to serve others again in some way, and said he hopes to have a “redemption story” that “no one could ever imagine.”

“I have a tremendous amount of passion left in this old man,” he said.

His attorney, Aaron Morrison, told the judge Thompson has dedicated his life to being an educator and helping students and his actions were out of character and “have humbled this man.”

“He regrets what he did to an extreme,” Morrison said. “He knows he’s going to prison and he knows it’s a scary thought for him but he knows it’s part of that healing process.”

He said Thompson bears a heavy burden for the heartbreak he caused the Shakopee district, but has a lot of support and is an “amazingly positive human being.”

He noted Thompson surrendered his teaching license, although the state licensing board agreed to reconsider that so he can perhaps substitute teach or maybe teach again.

Pay-to-play

Court documents indicate Thompson employed a pay-to-play approach to school contractors. Thompson solicited $44,000 in home improvement projects and more than $5,000 in personal travel and sporting event tickets in exchange for contracts with the school district.

Thompson demanded ICS remodel the basement of his house from July 2012 to November 2015, and ICS also paid a contractor to install a concrete patio slab outside Thompson’s walk-out basement. Thompson refused to pay the company for any of the work.

Between November 2009 and September 2016, Thompson also sent bills to ICS for sporting events and recreational travel “for Thompson’s personal consumption that had no connection to the legitimate business of the school district.” The company paid for more than $5,000 in tickets to Vikings, Timberwolves and Twins games, martial arts events and a stay at a luxury hotel in Nashville during a personal trip.

Assistant U.S. Attorney David J. MacLaughlin was asked after the hearing why ICS was never charged with anything, but he declined to comment, saying that was “private” and “investigatory.” He also declined to say how far back the FBI investigated Thompson.

Building Systems Holding acquired ICS just one month before the FBI began looking into the activities of a former ICS employee and Thompson. BSH President Arif Quraishi has said his company cooperated with the FBI and hired a former federal prosecutor to conduct an internal investigation of ICS.

Based on the two investigations, it was determined the employee did not do anything illegal but breached the company’s code of conduct and behaved unethically. The employee was no longer with the company as of September and had been removed from project work before then.

$75 a month in restitution

U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson ordered Thompson to serve 24 months in prison, pay $74,673 in restitution to the Shakopee school district and be on supervised release for two years once he gets out. Nelson went along with Thompson’s request to recommend he serve his time at the Duluth Federal Prison Camp, so he can be closer to family.

The judge ordered him to pay his restitution in $75 monthly payments, perhaps more if he works in prison, and while on supervised release he must not use controlled substances, possess firearms, hold a job with fiduciary responsibilities or open new lines of credit without his probation officer’s OK.

The judge said she considered the sentence on the low end of the sentencing range because although Thompson abused the public’s trust and embezzled money, he’s also endured “extremely humiliating press coverage” and will forever have difficulty working in the education field again.

“You have already suffered mightily for your misdeeds,” she said.

But she said he was taking the right steps by being honest and forthright and has a good support system, which reduces the likelihood he’ll re-offend.

“These acts don’t define you as a person,” Nelson said. “Everyone’s life is more than the worst thing they’ve ever done.”

In court documents, federal prosecutors argued for a 24-month prison sentence saying Thompson “serially abused his position” as superintendent during his entire six years working in Shakopee.

“Mr. Thompson extracted personal benefits from contractors who wished to do business with the school district, and directly embezzled money from the school district to enhance his lifestyle,” they wrote.

‘Extracted a

new basement’

Federal prosecutors said in a pre-sentencing document that Thompson approached the company that managed the SHS expansion, ICS Consulting, to “extract a new basement” from them and in 2012 threatened to withhold further business unless ICS paid for all his basement-related expenses.

The prosecutors said Thompson repeatedly hit up ICS and other companies doing business with the school district for sports tickets.

“Mr. Thompson’s use of his public position to solicit bribes and commit extortion appears to have been motivated purely by arrogance and greed,” even though he was well paid in his jobs, prosecutors wrote.

They noted he made a six-figure salary while superintendent in St. Anthony from July 2006 through July 2011, earning $168,683 annually by the end of his tenure there. Then in Shakopee, he earned $175,830, not including “substantial and unusual benefits, such as adoption benefits worth thousands of dollars,” they wrote.

“Mr. Thompson could afford to remodel his own basement, and to pay for his own Vikings tickets,” prosecutors wrote. “Instead, Mr. Thompson imposed the weight of his public position on contractors hungry to work for the school district Mr. Thompson oversaw to force them to pay for items on Mr. Thompson’s wish list.”

They argued for a 24-month sentence, noting “Thompson has already received the benefit of a generous plea package brokered by the government, the Scott County Attorney’s Office and Mr. Thompson’s criminal defense attorney.”

Thompson pleaded guilty Nov. 16 in Scott County District Court to charges he embezzled nearly $74,000 over five years from the Shakopee School District. Specifically, he pleaded guilty to five counts of theft by swindle, 13 counts of embezzlement of public funds and one count of receiving stolen property. He’s scheduled to be sentenced May 3 on those charges.

Federal prosecutors noted Scott County prosecutors agreed to delay their criminal proceedings to allow Thompson to plead guilty to the federal charge before pleading guilty to the state embezzling charge to ensure the two sentences could be served concurrently (at the same time).

Had he been convicted in county court first, the federal prosecutors said they would have had a strong argument for seeking a consecutive sentence (served one after the other, for a longer total sentence).

“In addition, had the state matter proceeded first, Mr. Thompson would have served his sentence in a state prison rather than, as likely now, at the considerably more pleasant federal prison camp in Duluth,” federal prosecutors wrote.

Thompson

‘lost everything’

Before being sentenced, Thompson wrote in a letter to the judge that at first he was in shock and denial, couldn’t comprehend how what he did was illegal and felt targeted. But over the past two years, he said he realized he wasn’t targeted, and needed to stand up and accept full responsibility for his actions.

“As a school superintendent, I should have exercised better judgment,” he wrote. “I have no excuses. I was wrong. I must be held accountable.”

His sister also wrote to the judge, saying Thompson has lost everything, including his teaching and administrator licenses and even an entry-level job at Tractor Supply Company. While requesting a public defender in November, Thompson said he was working at TSC in the Fargo-Moorhead area making $13.50 per hour.

In November, Thompson told the court he had about $40,000 to his name after cashing out his 403(b) retirement account. He told the judge he can’t access his retirement funds for another 10 years. Educators must meet a “Rule of 90” before they can get their retirement funds, and Thompson won’t hit that mark now that he’s out of education. Under the Rule of 90, educators receive benefits without any reduction for early retirement.

School district spokeswoman Ashley McCray released a district statement thanking the authorities for their “due diligence.”

“Today’s sentencing marks the end of a very challenging chapter for both our district and school community. We are grateful that this long, arduous process has concluded. We are relieved we can continue to focus our attention on the world of education and the many great things students are doing in our schools.”


Photo by Todd Abeln 

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