A complaint filed with the Shakopee Police Department against former Shakopee Public Utilities Commission Manager John Crooks will not end in any criminal charges, according to a letter from Scott County Attorney Ron Hocevar to the police department.
The Shakopee Police Department received the complaint against Crooks in August, after Crooks — who was earning more than the state salary cap allowed since 2017 — underwent an investigation by a private law firm hired by SPUC.
The state caps government employees at an annual salary of $178,782. According to his most recent contract, Crooks earned a base salary of $200,000 per year. Crooks left his position with the utility in September.
In the letter of declination, the county attorney’s office wrote the only “viable charge under the circumstances would be theft by swindle.” However, the state was unable to prove a swindle occurred or that Crooks had intent to defraud, according to the letter.
At the crux of the criminal investigation was whether Crooks knew his calculation of his salary was not permitted under state statute.
Crooks, according to both the private and criminal investigations, got around the salary cap by subtracting the value of his vacation and sick leave accruals from his overall salary, which — by his calculations — put his salary just below the cap. In closed meetings, commissioners asked questions regarding the salary cap, but ultimately relied on Crooks’ calculations, the report stated.
According to the private investigation’s report, “the commission seemed to feel that something was not quite right with his salary, but could not identify the issue.”
The attorney’s office said “a plain reading of the statute (which would be presented to a jury at a trial) can lead one to believe that his calculation was not so far removed that it’s obvious he was intending to deceive the board.”
The other fundamental challenge the attorney’s office faced in pressing charges, according to the letter, was proving that Crooks was involved in a swindle, since the SPU Commission ultimately approved his salary.
“One of the commissioners in an interview even conceded that they should have questioned things more,” Hocevar writes. “While they relied on information presented by Mr. Crooks, nothing prevented them from determining the governor’s salary and what the allowable salary cap would be. Any capable defense attorney will be able to argue that Mr. Crooks simply presented the law as he understood it and left the ultimate decision up to the commission to determine his salary.”
In an interview with the Valley News earlier this fall, SPUC President Deb Amundson said she wishes she would have been “more curious” about Crooks’ salary before voting to approve his contracts and accepted partial responsibility for the violation.
“On the other hand, it should have been on (Crooks) to inform us, too, where he stood on this,” Amundson said. “He believed… the statute allowed him to calculate his salary in a way that made him in the bounds, but I think the commission should have asked more questions.”
The investigation into Crooks catalyzed a movement to abolish the utility. Shakopee City Council passed a motion to give the community the chance to abolish SPUC on Election Day earlier this month.
Voters ultimately chose to maintain the existence of the utility, results from the general election show the measure failed with 41.34% of voters casting ballots in favor of dissolving the utility, and 58.66% of voters not in favor.
The utility is currently being managed by Larry Koshire, the former general manager of Rochester Public Utilities.