Updated at 11:38 a.m. Friday
ST. PAUL — Former Shakopee Superintendent Rod Thompson pleaded guilty today in federal court to one count of corruptly soliciting bribes from ICS Consulting, the company that managed the Shakopee High School expansion.
The U.S. Attorney's Office recommended Judge Susan Richard Nelson sentence Thompson to 24 months in prison and pay $74,673 in restitution. Nelson will sentence Thompson March 29 after a pre-sentence investigation has been completed. Thompson can only appeal the sentence if it exceeds 24 months of imprisonment.
In court Thursday, Thompson admitted to all of the allegations in the federal charging document, which says he used his position and authority as superintendent from 2011 to June 2017 to obtain personal benefits from an unnamed company. ICS Consulting was not named in the charges, but Assistant U.S. Attorney David MacLaughlin named the company in court Thursday.
The feds say Thompson solicited $44,000 in home improvement projects, and more than $5,000 in personal travel and attendance at sporting events 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 any of 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.
Thompson said in court Thursday he was "very clear" that what he was doing was wrong.
Thompson's request for a public defender was approved by Nelson after she questioned him about his assets. Thompson said he works at Tractor Supply Company making $13.50 per hour. He has about $40,000 to his name after cashing out his 403(b) retirement account. He also received approximately $50,000 in loans from friends and family.
He told the judge he cannot access his teacher retirement funds for another 10 years. Educators must meet a "Rule of 90" before they can access their retirement funds, and Thompson won't hit that mark now that he's out of education. Educators retiring under the Rule of 90 receive benefits without any reduction for early retirement.
"I'm not going to be in education any longer," he told the judge.
"Rod's role as an educator was to teach responsibility to kids and he didn't live that at the time and he wants to take responsibility now, at least, and set that example for them," Thompson's attorney, Peter Wold, said after the hearing. "There's been enough turmoil in the Shakopee School District over this case and the like out there. Rod doesn't think they deserve what they've gone through and a lot of it, really, is because of his actions."
Thompson declined to comment on his own behalf to the Valley News.
U.S. Attorney Erica H. MacDonald released a statement Thursday, saying, “Mr. Thompson was a trusted member of the Shakopee community. Parents, teachers, staff, and students trusted him to act with integrity to make the right decisions in the best interest of the Shakopee schools. He chose to violate that trust and act on what served his own interest. With his guilty plea today, I hope the Shakopee community has a sense of closure.”
FBI Special Agent in Charge Jill Sanborn agreed, releasing a statement saying, "The defendant held a position of public trust with an obligation to act in the best interest of Shakopee schools, staff, and students he was responsible for. Sadly, the defendant chose to violate this sacred trust by making the conscious decision to steal and deprive teachers of the very resources necessary to provide a quality education. The FBI remains committed to working with our law enforcement partners to investigate public corruption such as this and bring those responsible to justice."
Thompson is expected to plead guilty in Scott County District Court on Friday to charges he embezzled nearly $74,000 over five years from the Shakopee School District. His plea hearing is 1 p.m. Friday.
See our special investigations page on this case here.