ST. PAUL — Former Shakopee Superintendent Rod Thompson is scheduled to be sentenced today in federal court for soliciting bribes from ICS Consulting, the company that managed the Shakopee High School expansion.
The U.S. Attorney's Office has recommended U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson sentence Thompson to 24 months in prison and $74,673 in restitution. Under federal sentencing guidelines, the prosecutor says he's subject to a 24- to 30-month prison sentence.
In court documents, both the federal prosecutors and Thompson's attorney argued for a 24-month prison sentence. 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.
"Mr. Thompson serially abused his position as the superintendent of the Shakopee School District, a position of public trust, during his entire 6-year tenure there," federal prosecutors wrote. "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."
The prosecutor argued Thompson "undertook his abuse actively."
"For example, it was Mr. Thompson who approached ICS Consulting to actively to extract a new basement from that firm, using his position as Shakopee Superintendent to force acquiescence," they wrote. "In 2012, Mr. Thompson affirmatively threatened to withhold further business unless ICS Consulting paid for all basement-related expenses. ICS Consulting made its final payment for Mr. Thompson’s basement project in 2015."
In addition, 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 that "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 the district court charges.
The federal prosecutors noted Scott County prosecutors agreed to delay their criminal proceedings to allow Thompson to plead guilty to the federal charge before pleading to the embezzling charge in state court to ensure the two sentences could be served 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 longer consecutive sentence served one after the other.
"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's attorney, Peter Wold, argued for the 24-month sentence in court documents, writing, "Initially it was not easy for Mr. Thompson to accept his wrongdoing. Dismissal from the school district, state charges, and the extensive press coverage pushed Mr. Thompson into a depression.
"The process of reviewing the discovery in the state case was a humbling experience for Mr. Thompson," Wold wrote. "Actions rationalized as mistakes revealed personal failings. With time his realizations became acceptance and remorse."
Thompson wrote in a letter to the judge: "At first, I was in shock and denial and could not comprehend how what I did was illegal. I would even say I was feeling targeted to be made an example of somehow. Over the past two years I have had plenty of time to reflect and soul search, which afforded me a clear vision to understand that my actions were not that of someone who was targeted.
"I committed crimes and I needed to stand up and accept full responsibility for my actions. As a school superintendent, I should have exercised better judgment. 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 the company in the Fargo-Moorhead area making $13.50 per hour.
"Rod Thompson has confronted the parts of himself that all the rest of us leave ignored," Wold argued in his filing. "His realization is likely not complete, but it is authentic."
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.
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.
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.
The Shakopee Valley News' extensive investigation into Thompson led police to begin looking into his spending. See our special investigations page here.