Former Shakopee Schools Superintendent Rod Thompson racked up more than $30,000 in personal expenses on his district credit card, using public funds to splurge on sports memorabilia, first-class airfare, concert tickets and an Xbox game system, according to charges filed Tuesday in Scott County District Court.
Over a six-year period, the embattled schools chief used an assortment of schemes to make hundreds of personal purchases on the district’s dime, said Scott County Attorney Ron Hocevar.
Thompson, 52, turned himself in to authorities Tuesday afternoon and is being held at the Scott County jail ahead of Wednesday’s arraignment hearing. He faces 20 felony charges, including six counts of theft by swindle, 13 counts of embezzlement of public funds and one count of possession of stolen property, plus one misdemeanor count of receiving stolen property.
Unsanctioned purchases included a $23 Vikings flag, a $476 flat-screen TV, $220 cowboy boots, a $46 garden hose and miscellaneous jewelry, according to the criminal complaint.
Thompson ignited the ire of parents and community members in March, shortly after he notified staff of a $4.5 million budget shortfall, which he blamed on “human error.” The announcement prompted a Shakopee Valley News inquiry into the district’s finances, school board members’ travel and credit card use. News coverage and community outrage led to his June resignation — about a month after police launched a criminal probe. His separation agreement granted him a $50,000 payout from the district.
“At the end of the day we’re all losers. But the only satisfaction is that he’ll have to pay for what he did,” said Carrie Ferris, an active member of FACT: Friends & Concerned Taxpayers of Shakopee, an offshoot of the “Concerned Citizens of Shakopee” Facebook group, which clamored for a formal investigation.
“He will hopefully be a deterrent for those who think they can get away with this garbage,” said Ferris, calling the charges long overdue.
Shakopee Police Chief Jeff Tate said his investigators found $73,642 in what he called fraudulent charges and unjustified reimbursements by Thompson since 2012 — as far back as the Minnesota statute of limitations allows for charging such crimes.
“Anybody with any integrity is going to be disgusted with this,” Tate said. “How can a public official think he wasn’t going to get caught?”
Records show that Thompson’s spending was not limited to material items.
An adoption benefit in Thompson’s 2014 contract with the school district offered more than $30,000 in reimbursements toward the cost of adopting his second child. The “family-friendly” addendum was meant to thank him for his service and help retain him as an employee. He would ultimately use it as a cash advance, submitting copies of checks that he claimed were from his personal checking account to the Adoption Network Law Center, according to the charges. But none of the checks submitted to the adoption agency was ever cashed, authorities said.
During a six-month period in 2014, the district “paid Thompson back” $35,400 for bogus adoption expenses. In 2015, Thompson asked board members to approve his travel to Washington, D.C., and New Orleans for the Urban Superintendents Academy. He claimed a grant would cover the costs, but that didn’t happen, police said.
The district picked up nearly $13,500 for 10 of Thompson’s trips over two years.
On Tuesday, the Shakopee School District released a statement saying the allegations “are not only disturbing, but, if true, clearly reflect inappropriate conduct.”
District administrators said they have revamped school policies to create a system of “checks and balances” to ensure that misspending doesn’t happen again. The Citizens’ Financial Advisory Committee was recently established to oversee the district’s finances and revised credit card manual.
School Board Chairman Scott Swanson referred all questions to the district.
Shakopee watchdog groups like FACT, which argue that the school board was complicit in Thompson’s actions, say they will continue pushing for board members to step down. A June petition calling for a vote of no confidence in the government body condemned members for failing to recognize Thompson’s misconduct.
“They have a lot of explaining to do to this community,” Ferris said.
Since 2012, Thompson has reimbursed the district at least $3,450 — including more than $2,100 in personal Amazon purchases and hundreds in travel and food charges, according to school financial records.
He has declined to discuss the allegations.
The FBI has an open investigation into Thompson’s alleged crimes.
At the time of his hiring, board members praised Thompson’s charismatic personality and dedication to diversifying the district. He would ultimately be chosen out of a field of 42 candidates. In his job application, Thompson touted his 23 years of educational experience and “proven record of success.”
In his cover letter to the district, Thompson wrote, “My experience with optimizing human and fiscal resources and having to ‘do more with less’ gives me perspective that is invaluable to the Shakopee team.”
Liz Sawyer • 612-673-4648