Updated at 4:19 p.m. Tuesday
Former Shakopee Schools superintendent Rod Thompson was arrested and booked into the Scott County jail today on 21 charges that he stole and embezzled nearly $74,000 in school district funds over five years.
He faces six counts of felony theft by swindle, 13 counts of felony embezzlement of public funds, one count of felony possession of stolen property and one count of misdemeanor receiving stolen property. He faces a maximum 125 years of imprisonment and $311,000 in fines.
"If he’s found guilty of what we’ve charged him with, we will be seeking prison," Scott County Attorney Ron Hocevar said.
According to Shakopee Police Chief Jeff Tate, the investigation revealed Thompson also committed fraud with his contractual adoption benefit. Thompson is still under investigation by the FBI for alleged kickbacks he received from companies that did business with the district.
"This case has been on the minds of Shakopee residents for almost six months now. There have been many rumors and much speculation as to what happened," Tate said. "People are naturally upset, and they should be; this was not right. I hope this arrest will answer many of the questions people have and reassure them that the person responsible is not only being held accountable, but being held accountable to the fullest extent possible."
Thompson turned himself in at the Shakopee police station Tuesday. He was handcuffed, put in a squad car and transported to the Scott County jail.
The time and effort put into the investigation into Thompson surpassed the hours needed for three homicide investigations, Tate said.
Jewelry, sports memorabilia, travel
According to the statement of probable cause filed in Scott County District Court, Thompson made 305 personal purchases using his district credit card between November 2014 and May 2017 totaling over $30,000. Included in the purchases were sports memorabilia, personal memberships, an XBox, motorcycle jewelry, clothing, alcohol flasks and personal travel expenses.
Court documents also allege Thompson swindled the school district by attending the Urban Superintendents Academy. Thompson told the School Board there would be no expense to the district for his trips to Washington, D.C., for the academy, but police found he spent $13,448 on his 10 trips between 2015 and 2017.
One count of felony theft by swindle relates to Thompson's adoption benefit. In July 2014, Thompson entered into a contract with the district to extend his employment. A January 2014 addendum to that contract allowed Thompson $30,000 for an adoption benefit, with an additional 25 percent that was approved by the executive committee, court documents say.
Thompson was supposed to submit reimbursement requests for adoption-related expenses and then be repaid by the district. Court documents allege Thompson was submitting copies of checks for reimbursement that he claimed to have written from his checking account to the Adoption Network Law Center. However, none of those checks were submitted to Adoption Network Law Center; none of Thompson's checks were cashed.
Thompson was writing the checks and submitting them for reimbursement as a way to obtain cash advances from the school district, according to the charging documents.
In total, the board paid Thompson $37,500, and an additional $12,422 on Thompson's district credit card for a total of $49,922 for adoption expenses. In 2015, Thompson negotiated to repay the district the $12,422 out of what he claimed to have accrued in vacation and sick leave.
The 13 counts of embezzlement of public funds include a $150 charge for transporting two people from Rico Sun Tours to take them from the airport to a hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico; a $45 garden hose; a $144 elevated garden bed; a $61 Vikings flag; a $23 Vikings flag; a $724 ticket for his wife to fly to Nashville; $40 in bike chain jewelry; a $76 Harley Davidson ring; a $308 charge for a flight upgrade; $472 for a TV; $575 Grand Ole Opry tickets; $219 cowboy boots; and a $67 Vikings wall graphic.
One count of possession of stolen property is for $1,136 worth of items found in Thompson's office during a June 5 police search. Court documents say Thompson's assistant told police none of the items had been in his office before the investigation began and randomly appeared in a closet basket the day of the search.
The sole misdemeanor charge for possession of stolen property is for 57,660 Sky Miles Thompson apparently accrued as a result of school district travel.
When contacted for comment, Shakopee School Board members referred the Valley News to a statement released by the district.
"The allegations surrounding former Superintendent Thompson have taken their toll on the entire staff and community. They are not only disturbing, but, if true, clearly reflect inappropriate conduct," temporary Acting Interim Superintendent Jon McBroom said in the statement. "The district has taken several steps in both policy and procedure to prevent future action by any employee similar to those alleged to have occurred with the former superintendent."
Asked whether anyone else will be criminally charged in connection with the case, Tate said he couldn't comment because the department is still actively following up on other purchases. But Hocevar said "Not in the immediate future."
"There’s such a culture of fear up there under Thompson that people were afraid to come forward," he said. "There’s a big difference and a fine line between a bad decision and criminal intent, so all those factors come into play."
How it began
After a $4.5 million budget error was publicly disclosed by Thompson in March, drawing hundreds of angry residents to a subsequent budget forum, the Shakopee Valley News began investigating the district's finances.
On May 23, the Valley News reported that school administrators had traveled extensively, even as the district's budget shortfall quietly grew. Thompson traveled out-of-state 18 times between April 2015 and March 2017, with 16 of those trips at least partially funded by the school district. Nine of Thompson's 16 district-funded trips were to Alexandria, Virginia, to attend classes for the Howard University Urban Superintendents Academy, which is designed to prepare educators to be urban superintendents.
On May 31, Thompson's district credit card was cancelled after a Valley News report that he had made more than 40 personal purchases between April 2015 and July 2016, and reimbursed the district $3,500 on June 30, 2016, when he realized he had "accidentally" used his district card several times. But some items were shipped to Thompson’s home and not reimbursed, including a 72-pack of Keurig K-cups, a MacBook, MacBook connector cable, an external MacBook battery, a 42-inch LED TV and wall mount, and a Blu-ray combo drive for MacBook.
That same day, the Shakopee Police Department opened an investigation after records showed Thompson used his district card for about $5,000 in personal purchases. In a subsequent search of Thompson's house, police found a 42-inch TV, Amazon Kindle and MacBook. Thompson's executive assistant, Sarah Koehn, told police she had been pleading with Thompson to provide about 20 or 30 receipts for his credit card transactions over the last two years.
The Valley News learned on July 20 that the FBI was investigating allegations Thompson received kickbacks — including vacations and loans — from at least three companies awarded contracts with the district, beginning shortly after he was hired in 2011, according to a search warrant affidavit.
“Thompson admitted to accepting vacations and trips from two companies that had received contracts with ISD 720,” said an affidavit by Shakopee Detective Jim Blatzheim filed July 19.
The affidavit also indicated police obtained school district documents and bank records dating back to February 2012 that showed “numerous apparently personal purchases made on Thompson’s p-card.”
Upon further investigation, the Valley News discovered that during Thompson's six years as superintendent, he made about 124 purchases worth about $15,000 on his district credit card, all of which were sent to his home. Of that, about $6,300 worth was returned or reimbursed by Thompson to the district.
Thompson also reimbursed the district $1,448 in May for airline tickets to Nashville for a personal trip he and his wife took last September. He said the trip was initially business-related but turned personal, and he forgot to reimburse the district.
Another Valley News special report revealed Thompson used his district credit card to pay for hotel stays on personal motorcycle trips in 2013 and 2014.
Hocevar credited the police department, citizens of Shakopee and Shakopee Valley News.
"I’d like to thank the citizens of Shakopee and the Shakopee Valley News, because without their involvement and digging into this and uncovering some things that the Shakopee Police Department could then go out and investigate, this could have gone on for quite a bit of time," he said. "So it was good to have the community involvement and community newspaper involvement in digging into it."
See our special investigations page on this case here.
Deena Winter contributed to this report.