On Feb. 26, 2012, former Shakopee Public Schools Superintendent Rod Thompson ordered a cartridge of Brother brand ink and a 10-foot-long, high-speed Belkin cord for $50 on Amazon to be shipped to his home tax-free.
Nothing strange to see here.
Two days later, Thompson ordered the same items again, this time accompanied by a $118 compact, wireless laser printer.
Again, shipped to his home. Again, tax-free.
Still not too unusual.
Then, less than a month later, came a $115 charge for a Bluetooth-equipped keyboard and mouse. And throughout the year, more orders kept coming:
- In May, five storage containers were ordered from Amazon for $500, though four were returned and refunded a few weeks later.
- In June, a $299 Bose SoundLink wireless mobile speaker was sent to a home address.
- In July, $460 was spent on two Skype-enabled computer cameras sent to Thompson’s home.
- Accessories for both Samsung and iPhone phones were also delivered to his home tax-free and without reimbursement.
These were a few questionable purchases made by Thompson in 2012 with the school district’s credit card. The Shakopee Valley News inspected his district credit card purchases dating back to 2012, and found 29 orders shipped directly to his home, with nine of them reimbursed or refunded by the former superintendent. Four more digital purchases were also paid back.
The following year, at least 16 similar purchases were made. In 2014, at least 22.
By the time Thompson’s card was cancelled in May 2017, about 124 purchases worth about $15,000 had been sent to his home or he reimbursed. That doesn’t include the use of the card for subscriptions, adoption expenses and travel purchases.
In May, the Valley News reported on about 40 personal purchases made by Thompson in 2015 and 2016, since it was a violation of district card policy. School district officials portrayed the transactions as accidents that had been rectified.
“Dr. Thompson realized the P-card (credit card) had been used as a default card when he made purchases through Amazon and PayPal,” district spokeswoman Ashley McCray said earlier this year.
But a recent Valley News review of Thompson’s transaction logs and receipts for the past 5.5 years showed he’s been making what appear to be personal purchases since the beginning of his tenure as superintendent.
More money, more problems
Of the $15,000 in purchases , about $6,300 was either reimbursed or returned.
Among the returned or reimbursed items were a $334 Nixon CoolPix camera, a $124 fireplace blower kit and a $500 42-inch LG TV bought in 2012. This TV is different from the one bought in 2015 and then recovered in Thompson’s basement by the Shakopee Police Department.
According to McCray, some items shipped to Thompson’s home had school-related purposes. A $1,000 Canon Rebel camera bought in 2013 is still used by the communications department. A $169 espresso floating desk bought from Amazon is used at the district office. Same goes for a set of Sennheiser wireless TV headphones, a Jabra wireless speaker, a Datexx miracle cube timer and two mug racks.
But the district didn’t explain all purchases in question, including:
- Seven iPhone and three iPad cases bought in the past five years.
- A $374 Apple storage device.
- An Apple Mac Mini, trackpad and Apple TV totaling $1,120 in 2013.
- Five University of Minnesota pens at $17 a piece.
- A $575 purchase from Vivid Seats, an online ticket reseller, which was reimbursed.
- Multiple books by retired NFL coach Tony Dungy including “Uncommon: Finding Your Path to Significance” and “Uncommon Marriage.”
He also bought the book “Rebuilding the Brand: How Harley-Davidson Became the King of the Road” in October 2012. Internal documents indicate former accounts payable employee Barbara Kelly emailed Thompson asking about the purchase.
”During the processing of your October charges I noticed that there was an Amazon charge for ‘How Harley-Davidson became the King of the Road’ usually for items like this you have attached a personal check however this time I didn’t see one? I was wondering if this was an oversight or not... Please advise,” she wrote.
Thompson replied that the purchase was not an oversight. He said the book on the motorcycle company had been featured at an education strategy conference in Canada.
A customer service representative for Solution Tree, the education resource group that organizes the conference, said featured books are always chosen from the company’s self-published catalog. “Rebuilding the Brand” is not in that catalog.
Thompson does mention Harley-Davidson as a personal passion in his Twitter bio.
In response to questions about purchases that appear personal, McCray said in an email: “Obviously, as [Shakopee Valley News] has previously reported, some of the expenditures appear to have been personal in nature.”
Memberships and adoption expenses
Thompson’s credit card purchases went beyond material goods.
At times, he charged membership fees with Amazon Prime, Kindle Unlimited and Audible. Executive assistant Sarah Koehn also had a district-paid Amazon Prime account for office purchases.
At least three charges for an upgraded Dropbox Plus data storage account were made, for a total of $238 per year. These accounts hold 1 terabyte of data. This is in addition to ordering 64 gigabytes of flash drive space and a 3 terabyte Apple external hard drive.
Then there were the digital publications and apps, including:
- Multiple renewals of Education Week’s print and digital premium package.
- At least three years of getAbstract, a service that summarizes business books into five pages. Each year cost $299.
- Three reimbursed $10 charges to Next Issue Media, which “helps its customers develop, distribute, sell, and consume paid digital content of magazines and newspapers.”
- A reimbursed $50 subscription to The Marshall Memo, an education e-newsletter.
- A 2015 subscription to Southwest News Media (yes, the company responsible for this article) for $35.
- Three $45 charges for a phone app that provides unlimited background checks.
Thompson also used his company card to pay a $550 lifetime membership to the University of Minnesota Alumni Association in October 2014.
Larger expenses associated with Thompson’s unique adoption benefit were found among transaction logs — some without receipts.
Rather than get a raise in 2014, Thompson was given $30,000 towards adoption expenses. However, about $280 for travel to Chicago in August 2014 was charged to his district card and coded on the transaction logs as “adoption.”About a month later, the log shows two charges to the Adoption Network Law Center totaling $5,840.
The addendum to Thompson’s employment contract says adoption expenses were to be approved by the school board and reimbursed to Thompson. There is no mention of using a p-card to cover expenses.
Show me the receipts
Because of missing or partial receipts, the Valley News was not able to identify all purchases made by the former superintendent.
Former Shakopee Schools Finance Director Mike Burlager, who retired in June, told police Thompson was always late providing purchase receipts.
Koehn also told police she had been “pleading” with him to provide about 20 or 30 receipts from the last two years. They were not provided until late May 2017, when a public records request was made for his credit card transactions.
In between strangely organized receipts and duplicated transaction logs, Kelly scrawled another note in 2012:
“Burlager allowed all charges to be processed as ‘received’ even when no receipt was given and all tax charges were to be ignored.”
“I personally disagreed with this determination,” Kelly wrote.
In a phone interview Burlager said that this disagreement was related to receipts for moving expenses and his interpretation of the Internal Revenue Service code.
“I could see where people can say ‘here is another issue,’” he said. “In my mind it was not because [the disagreement] was all related to moving expenses.”
Burlager did not recall any other time expenses were approved without receipts adding “I would assume that we wanted documentation for everything.”
The school district is revising its purchase card policy. A draft of the policy bans shipping items home or buying technology for a different department and requires employees to reimburse the district if they cannot produce a receipt.
“The expectation has been that if any employee either intentionally or unintentionally used a p-card for a personal expense, they were expected to provide a receipt for the expenditure and promptly reimburse the school district,” McCray said via email. “To our knowledge, this system worked well for all p-cards holders, with one notable exception.”
Thompson’s credit card use raises more questions: Why wasn’t the contract policy followed? Why were missing receipts let go? Were any charges challenged by the district and who knew?
When Shakopee School Board members were asked these kinds of questions, they issued a group statement through McCray:
“While it appears some of the former superintendent’s purchases served the district, it has only recently come to our attention that others appear to be personal,” they wrote. “At no point did we have any knowledge of the former superintendent’s personal transactions or, in some cases, the reimbursements that followed.”
The Shakopee Police Department could not comment on their investigation into Thompson’s use of the district card, but Police Chief Jeff Tate said, “It’s going to be months before this thing is wrapped up.”
The person with all the answers though would be Thompson himself, but when the Valley News called for comment, no one picked up the landline and his cell phone had been disconnected.
— Amanda McKnight and Maggie Stanwood contributed to this report.