The FBI is assisting with the Shakopee Police Department’s investigation of the former Shakopee superintendent, and authorities are investigating allegations Rod Thompson received kickbacks from companies the district did business with.
While trying to get a search warrant, a police detective told a judge law enforcement is looking into allegations Thompson got kickbacks from at least three companies that won contracts with the school district, beginning shortly after he was hired in 2011.
“Thompson admitted to accepting vacations and trips from two companies that had received contracts with ISD 720,” says an affidavit by Shakopee Detective Jim Blatzheim filed July 19.
Asked about possible kickbacks, Shakopee Police Chief Jeff Tate would not comment, but did say, “The FBI is assisting us in this investigation; they’ve got a specific area they’re focusing on.”
Shakopee police got a search warrant July 19 to search Thompson’s emails after largely being stonewalled by school officials. Police have been investigating Thompson for possible misuse of school funds since May 25, after a series of Shakopee Valley News stories examining Thompson’s spending with his district credit card.
Tate said police have been stymied in their investigation by employees who won’t talk to them, contradicting information and slow or no response to warrants.
“Our investigation has been slowed significantly due to a lack of response by the school district’s attorney to our warrants and subpoenas,” he said in an interview. “It’s extremely frustrating on our part because a) we want to know what happened and b) we want this to not drag out forever. We have put in a tremendous amount of time and resources into this investigation and to have to go back multiple times because you received incomplete information is frustrating.”
Tate said the district’s attorney, Peter Martin, has slowed the investigation.
“It’s been incredibly frustrating that we have not received things in a more timely fashion,” Tate said. “To say that we’re extremely frustrated at this point is an understatement.”
According to the documents, Thompson’s executive assistant, Sarah Koehn, told a detective “Thompson was making personal purchases on his p-card shortly after he was hired in 2011.” (District credit cards are commonly referred to as purchase or p-cards.)
Police obtained documents from the school district and its bank dating back to February 2012, and they showed “numerous apparently personal purchases made on Thompson’s p-card,” according to the affidavit.
Thompson admitted to making personal purchases with his card — including a September 2016 trip to Nashville, Tennessee, with his wife — but claimed he reimbursed the district for all the purchases.
According to court documents, detectives first verbally requested Thompson’s emails on May 31 from Human Resources Director Scott Hare and Martin. Martin replied that Thompson received 200 emails every day.
After the school district failed to respond to verbal requests for the emails, a search warrant was served on Martin on June 13. On July 12, Martin delivered copies of emails to the police, but they were only received emails (Thompson’s inbox).
“There was not a single sent, deleted or archived email contained in these copies,” the affidavit states. “Additionally there were no email communications provided from May 24 through June 5, a period of time immediately following the Shakopee Valley News’ initial report on May 23 of the suspected misuse of school district funds by Thompson.”
The affidavit noted people frequently email others regarding criminal activity prior to, during and after the event, and detectives believe the emails may generate additional “investigative leads” because they would show whether “a particular person has or has not had contact with other specific persons.”
On July 13, another search warrant was drafted seeking Thompson’s work emails, with language referencing the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, per Martin’s request. But as of July 19, police hadn’t received any emails from Martin or the school district and no indication that they would be coming.
“As of July 18, despite repeated requests and search warrant executions, the Shakopee Police Department has been unable to recover a complete record of Thompson’s email communications via his work email account,” Blatzheim’s affidavit says.
So on July 18, a detective spoke to an IT administrator at the school district and learned the district uses a cloud service that stores data, and the IT department could retrieve the information police were seeking on Thompson’s account. Scott County District Court Judge Caroline Lennon signed a search warrant Wednesday allowing police detectives to search Thompson’s emails dating back to 2011, within the district’s Microsoft Office 365 service.
Court documents indicate the search was conducted July 19 and police retrieved information on two email accounts from the cloud service, downloaded to an external hard drive. Tate said police were at the district from late afternoon until 10 p.m.
“Even last night, getting that stuff was a bit of a circus,” Tate said. “You don’t understand why.”
Tate said there was talk about possible obstruction of justice.
“Thankfully, it didn’t get to that,” he said.
The school district spokeswoman, Ashley McCray, has not yet responded to a request for comment.