ST. PAUL — Former Shakopee Superintendent Rod Thompson was sentenced today 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 admitted to all of the 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 crimes.
Two years was the 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 can appeal only if he's sentenced to more than that.
Court documents indicate Thompson employed a pay-to-play approach to school contractors. The feds say 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 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.
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. “I am someone who has done wrong.”
He broke down while explaining his desire to serve others again in some capacity 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 defense 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 become a teacher again.
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 agreed 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 a sentence on the low end of the range because although he 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 that reduces the likelihood of re-offending.
“These acts don’t define you as a person,” Nelson said. “Everyone’s life is more than the worst thing they’ve ever done.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney David J. MacLaughlin was asked after the sentencing why ICS employees were 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.
School district spokeswoman Ashley McCray released a district statement today 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."
The Shakopee Valley News' extensive investigation into Thompson led police to begin looking into his spending. See our special investigations page here.