Lowlights of JeffCo Sheriff’s Critchlow Report, Part 3

17 Sep

Part 1 here, Part 2 here.

Before I begin, it is interesting to note what offenses are contemplated on the first two pages of the Jefferson County Sheriff’s investigative report into the Critchlow affair. They are felony stealing, theft, and forgery and counterfeiting.

Davis Interview

Deborah Davis was Dianne’s secretary and also secretary for the school board. The interview with her covered Dianne’s various illegitimate contracts, as discussed in part 2. It includes a great nugget; when asked if she thought the disgraced superintendent made the contracts, she said she’s “not going to throw Dianne under the bus.” Throw the taxpayers under the bus? Sure. Throw her fellow employees under the bus? No problem. Throw the students under the bus. Done. But Dianne? No way, gotta protect her. Unbelievable. You know who could have made her talk? A prosecutor, with a subpoena. Davis should have been charged as an accomplice.

Other than that, the interview contains a lot of “I don’t recall” and “I did what Dianne said.”

While she has departed from Fox, Davis is still active in district politics. She served as treasurer for successful school board candidate Carole Yount (who has other FOC – friend of Critchlow – connections). Why would someone like Davis who shows no concern for the district want to be involved in the school board? And why would a board candidate want anything to do with Critchlow cronies?

Menchella Interview

Sandy Menchella took over Debbie Davis’ job. Her interaction with deputies showed that the changes to Dianne’s contract were not considered or approved by the school board, as seen in board meeting minutes. This would seem to poke a hole in the idea that Critchlow was not charged with crimes because the board approved everything she did (knowingly or otherwise). The lack of any evidence that the board approved her self-initiated salary increases shows that she is guilty of fraud and theft.

Norrid Interview

Matt Norrid is payroll supervisor at Fox. He pulled out information from 2011-12 and 2012-13 showing additional times that Critchlow gave herself a new contract with higher pay with no authorization. Menchella was consulted again, and the relevant board meeting minutes had no record of these salary increases being approved.

This completes the investigative report.

Omissions

Here are some interviews I would have liked and expected to see performed as part of this investigation:

Todd Scott: Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources under Critchlow. What did he know about all these unauthorized salary hikes for top administrators? We know he helped abet Dianne’s nepotism hires.

Jim Berblinger: CFO before McCutchen. What about these allegations of his Pasta House meetings with district vendors? Also, the current regime at Fox called him out by name for complicity in Dianne’s antics in its responses to the state audit.

Mark McCuthchen: Former Fox CFO, the one who was shredding documents on his way out the door. He was behind the unauthorized pay hikes for top administrators besides Critchlow. He knew what was going on. I imagine he would have lawyered up and refused to talk, but make him do that.

The Critchlows: Why not talk directly to the culprits? Again, they would have refused to talk, but still, put them under pressure and make them rack up attorneys fees.

Perhaps search warrants could have been conducted on the Critchlows’ properties in Arnold, Reynolds County, and wherever else, to look for documents related to her illicit spending and income, and maybe some of the items she purchased on the Fox credit cards. She returned some items to the district (shouldn’t that have been proof of guilt?), but I don’t think everything was given back.

Statute of Limitations

I was thinking that perhaps when a new county prosecutor takes office in January of 2019, he or she could reopen the Critchlow case with an unbiased eye. But Missouri law sets forth a statute of limitations of only three years, so Dianne and her gang are free and clear at this point, as far as the state of Missouri is concerned.

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Lowlights of JeffCo Sheriff’s Critchlow Report, Part 2

8 Sep

In Part 1, I covered the first two interviews in the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office investigative report into Dianne Critchlow’s reign at the Fox school district. Let’s continue:

Jones Interview

Judith Jones was an employee in the Accounts Payable department under Critchlow. She was responsible for paying the district’s bills. In that capacity, she paid Dianne’s credit card bills and fulfilled her reimbursements.

She started by saying she would not remember any specific transactions. She also said she would not question bills because they came to her approved by Critchlow or her partner in crime, former CFO Mark McCutchen. She also says she did not see itemized lists of credit card charges. In the state audit (page 19), a person (apparently Jones) states that she reviewed and reconciled all credit card statements except for Critchlow’s. Dianne reviewed her own statements (or claimed she did).

Finally, she said she heard rumors of misuse of credit cards, but “did not feel it was her place to question her boss.” The audit states that 36% of the transactions made on the credit cards of Critchlow and her secretary, Deborah Davis, “raised concerns.”

This gets into a philosophical question. Ideally, we would expect all people to do the right thing, consequences be damned. In this case, that would mean being diligent in questioning expenses, investigating these rumors she heard, and passing on her concerns to the school board and other senior administrators. But in real life, lower level employees often cannot afford to risk their jobs. They don’t get golden parachutes like superintendents do. It can be a lot to ask of someone with a family to risk their livelihood.

And given that the Fox district leadership was rotten to the core, stacked with yes-men and cronies, backed by a lax, compliant, and partially bought-off school board, who could Jones have talked to that would have done anything about the fraud? A guy like Tim Crutchley could easily have afforded to do the right thing (if he had any such interest), but it is not so easy for people such as Jones. Though I must say I question her “I don’t recall” act in this interview.

Clack Interview

Kerry Clack was payroll supervisor at Fox. She tells a tale similar to that of Jones, that she was deprived of documentation and told by Critchlow and McCutchen just to do what she was told. She said that McCutchen took away her salary schedule, which is supposed to dictate what employees get paid based on their time in service, and instead sent out a spreadsheet with the salary numbers he said should be paid (undoubtedly to help pad the salaries of Critchlow and her cronies).

Clack stated that, since she was so close to retirement, she did not want to question her supervisors. Dianne forced her to sometimes sign the time sheets Dianne’s sons submitted for their no-show jobs with the district.

Logging Equipment

When caught buying logging equipment with district funds, Dianne’s husband Jamie said the equipment was for a service project in Arnold parks with the kids in the Bridges program. A JeffCo deputy talked to Dave Crutchley, brother of assistant superintendent Tim, from the Arnold parks department, who said no such work took place.

G’Sell Interview

Tim Crutchley indicated in his interview that he heard that Ray G’Sell told people that he poured concrete at the Critchlow residence and was paid by a district credit card. So a deputy went to the G’Sell company to check this out. He talked to Mrs. G’Sell, who acted kind of squirrely.

She said she wasn’t sure if any work had been done for the Critchlow’s, that she was too busy to check the records at this time, and she had to check with her husband to see if she could release any information without a warrant. She said the company did not accept credit card payments, and that she was “in a hurry” and had to leave. The deputy asked her to call him back with the information he requested, and said he would file a supplemental report when she did so, but there is nothing else in the investigative report pertaining to this company.

Hard Drives

The report reveals that six hard drives were acquired by the Sheriff’s Office from the Fox district, and five of them were turned over to the FBI in June 2016 for forensic examination. The FBI returned them in March of 2017. No word is given on what was found on the drives.

More on the Logging

A Reynolds County deputy went to some property the Critchlows bought there in 2012 and 2014 (purchases facilitated by the money they stole from the district) to check for signs of logging, but found none.

Dianne Contracts

The report considers the four different contracts that existed for Dianne during the 2013-14 school year. They are as follows:

  • 1st contract: Salary of $253,694, signed 1-15-13, approved by the school board.
  • 2nd contract: Salary of $256,131, signed 10-15-13, no documentation of it being approved at board meeting, but was signed by board president Dan Smith.
  • 3rd contract: Salary of $260,598, signed 2-4-14, also no documentation of it being approved at board meeting, but was signed by board president Dan Smith. “Done by the order of the board of education” 1-21-2013.
  • Second 3rd contract: Same as above but signed by Dianne on 1-29-14 and “done by the order of the board” on 1-21-2014.

These contracts are discussed in the state audit report on the pages numbered 6-7. In the end, Critchlow was paid the $260,598 salary that year, retroactively applied to the entire school year, though the last contract was enacted in January. According to the audit, this was the highest rate of pay per student enrolled of all Missouri superintendents that year and the 2nd-highest overall.

Smith Interview

A JeffCo detective interviewed the aforementioned Dan Smith. He said he did not recall signing three contracts that school year. He said he used his electronic signature once, for a “minor” contract. The audit states that electronic signatures of the board president and secretary were able to be automatically added to new contracts when they were printed, which would explain why he did not recall using them on Critchlow contracts.

Smith recalled that he was summoned to the office of Critchlow’s secretary, Deborah Davis, to sign “an unknown contract on an unknown date for an unknown reason” (these are the words of the interviewer). Whatever it was, he went ahead and signed it. Way to be diligent, there.

Smith also reported that he missed the 1-21-14 board meeting due to recovering from surgery. Look above at the date the second 3rd contract was supposedly approved by the board.

Dan Smith now serves on the county planning and zoning board, to which he was appointed by county executive Ken Waller.

I will wrap up this post now, and conclude my review of the JeffCo Sheriff’s investigative report into the Critchlow affair in Part 3.

Lowlights of JeffCo Sheriff’s Critchlow Report, Part 1

4 Sep

After much nagging, and bringing in the Missouri Attorney General, Rich Simpson over at Fox C-6 Watchdogs has acquired an investigative report from the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office on the Dianne Critchlow reign of fraud at Fox C-6 school district. His Sunshine Law request was directed at the county prosecutor, Forrest Wegge, who claimed to no longer have a copy of the report, but when Sheriff Dave Marshak learned of the request, he gave a copy to Simpson. The report is here.

The information contained in the report makes it even harder to understand how Critchlow avoided prosecution. Let’s take a look at it.

Crutchley Interview

The first interview summarized in the report is with Tim Crutchley, who was Critchlow’s number two man for nine years, first among the many assistant superintendents that Fox employed then. He became interim superintendent when Critchlow abruptly retired, and shortly thereafter took a big $77,000 buyout as part of Fox’s ridiculous golden parachute program from the Critchlow era. As you may recall, the Leader did a puff piece interview when he retired in which they didn’t ask a single question about Critchlow.

Crutchley had lots to say to the deputies and FBI agents who interviewed him. Here’s how the interview summary starts:

crutchley bitch

He proceeded to call out the following people:

  • Dianne’s husband Jamie Critchlow (and five other unnamed individuals) for holding jobs requiring a Master’s degree without actually having one.
  • Longtime Fox school board member Pete Nicholas, who was voted out in 2013 (before the Critchlow scandals broke), for just happening to work for whatever electric company got contracts to do work with the Fox district, and for his wife having a food service job with the district that was, Crutchley says, created by Critchlow.
    • This electrical stuff is a new allegation, at least to me. We know that Critchlow rewarded board members who abetted her reign, and we know that the food service department was one place where employees of board members got jobs (see Kelly Nash).
  • Debbie Davis, Dianne’s administrative assistant and the school board secretary, for being “overpaid” and for letting Dianne use her district credit card.
  • Mark McCutchen, former Fox CFO who abruptly resigned as the poo was approaching the fan, for not being qualified, having no clue what he was doing, shredding lots of documents before he departed the district, and for getting $18,000 in “hush money” from Dianne on the way out.
  • Dianne’s son, for getting paid as a student worker while he was away at college.

This interview seems to prove my thought all along that Crutchley knew what was going on at Fox. How could he not? Even though he claimed to be all about character when he was at Ridgewood Middle School, when he worked under Dianne he did not exhibit character, he exhibited cowardice and complicity.

[I reckon he could have found all this stuff out only after the scandal broke, but I’m not buying that.]

The way he sang to the feds, he could have been the star witness against Critchlow at trial. But unfortunately, feckless prosecutors deprived him of the chance.

Brazeal Interview

Current Fox CFO John Brazeal, who uncovered and revealed a lot of the Critchlow fraud when he took over for McCutchen, was the next interview to be summarized in the report. Here’s what he described:

  • A “do what you’re told because I’m your boss” atmosphere where many feared to speak up because they might lose their jobs.
  • The school board would often vote on items without having all the details.
    • We know that Critchlow withheld information from the board, but the board did not appear to ask too many questions along the way, perhaps in part because some of them had relatives that Critchlow got jobs for in the district.
  • Critchlow donated district money to the MO Association of School Business Officials, but then created a fake check and got reimbursed personally for it.
  • Jamie Critchlow getting a principal job despite lacking the required credentials, and being hired at a dollar amount, not a salary step.
  • Fox’s CFO before McCutchen, Jim Berblinger, had lunches daily with Fox vendors at the Pasta House in Arnold, at which Berblinger would provide the vendors with lists of items he wanted, in exchange for larger contracts with Fox. The interviewing deputy said he had not been able to verify this, but there is no other follow-up mentioned in the report.
    • This is another new-to-me allegation. Berblinger gets blamed in Fox’s response to the state audit for basically being lax, but this suggests he was actively involved in fraud himself.
  • Brazeal also attests to McCutchen’s shredding of documents.
  • Critchlow’s sons were employed by the district, but may or may not have done actual work. One son received $4,000 in scholarships from Fox, directed to him by his mom, as I described here.
  • Jamie accompanied Dianne on a business trip, and trip got paid for by the district even though it was personal.
  • As we saw on the district’s long-withheld credit card statements, Dianne was a big spender on sites like Amazon.com. Many purchases were shipped to her home. She also appears to have gotten the district to pay for her son’s graduation robe.

But wait, there’s more! I will cover other interviews in the sheriff’s report in my next post.

Eclipse Turnout Below Projections

27 Aug

Along with witnessing the remarkable eclipse itself, obviously, I was interested to see what kind of visitor turnout there would be locally for the big event. Forecasts were difficult, because there is no precedent for an event like this. It is understandable that officials wanted to err on the high side in order to avoid getting swamped with unexpected numbers. Some projections that were published locally included a doubling of the county population on eclipse day (our current population is about 225,000) and up to 40,000 people in DeSoto, at the center of the path of totality.

But let’s take a look at some actual visitor estimates, as reported in the Leader and elsewhere:

Hillsboro: “hundreds…viewed the eclipse at Jefferson College.”

Arnold: “hundreds..gathered at Arnold City Park.” “Crowds were lighter” at the Saturday and Sunday events. “Traffic…was much lighter than expected.”

De Soto: “1,500 to 2,000 people. “Parking lots around town still had plenty of spaces.”

Festus: “Near-capacity crowd” at West City Park. “A parks department guy…thought there were 4,000 people” but the fire chief thought it was higher. The police chief estimated 12-15,000 at West City Park. KMOV says Festus had over 20,000 total visitors.

Herculaneum: “crowd of about 1,000 at Herculaneum High…200 more at City Park.”

These number don’t include others who watched at private homes or other viewing events hosted by businesses (like Surdyke Harley or Villa Antonio Winery), churches, baseball fields, etc.

Festus seems to have drawn the most local visitors, which I attribute to its location near I-55 and the fact that it advertised one site for all its festivities. De Soto had a longer totality, but their marketing was basically “here are a bunch of places in town to watch.” Festus has many more hotel rooms than De Soto, also, so that was likely a factor.

I did not expect Arnold to get many visitors, since it only experienced 2 minutes 8 seconds of totality at the park where it hosted an event. People who traveled for the eclipse were going to try to get as much totality as possible (De Soto got half a minute more than Arnold), and thus bypass cities further from the center of the path of totality. And locals, I think, were more likely to avoid the crowds and watch from the comforts of home, where air conditioning, bathrooms, and fridges were available, even sacrificing a dozen or two seconds of totality in exchange for convenience.

For a nearby data point, Jefferson City’s turnout was about half of what was predicted.

Traffic

The Leader also reports that the weekend was “peaceful and traffic congestion-free,”and that backups did not occur until Monday morning in the 9 am hour on southbound roads. There were some northbound backups after totality ended. According to MODOT, 55 South was “fairly heavy, but steady” on eclipse morning and “fairly heavy” on 55 North afterwards. This is what I noticed as well. As with many parts of the country, traffic was worse after the eclipse than before it.

However, MODOT also said the traffic was “what they expected.” These results are not consistent with the department’s warnings leading up to the eclipse of massive traffic. MODOT also said that there was heavy traffic Saturday, which I don’t think we really saw here in JeffCo. In line with what Arnold said, there were not big Saturday visitor numbers. I did not see reports about attendance at Herky’s weekend events, but I did attend the parade there Saturday morning and the crowd was light. I think the vast majority of eclipse visitors came to town Sunday night or even Monday morning, in part due to the fact that our county’s limited hotel room inventory was all booked up. Even in Carbondale, site of the longest duration of total eclipse, the visitor numbers were reportedly underwhelming on Saturday and into early Sunday, though things definitely picked up after that.

Weather Impact

The weather may have played some role in reducing the number of visitors to the area. Right up until eclipse morning, the forecast was for approximately 50 percent clouds over our area. Serious eclipse viewers may have decided at the last minute to head for other locales, such as the Nashville area, where the forecast was for clear skies. That’s what the head of the St Louis Eclipse Task Force did. However, it sounds like Nashville had more cloud issues than we did. From my vantage point, clouds only covered the sun for one brief moment an hour before totality.

On the other hand, the forecast was worse in the Columbia and Kansas City areas, so we have have received a last-minute bump from people redirecting from points west.

Again, I don’t blame anyone for overestimating how many visitors we would receive for the eclipse. I just think it is worthwhile to compare projections to reality. After all, there’s another eclipse in seven years (JeffCo residents will have to travel a bit for that one – SEMO, here I come), and we have to start planning soon. Tip #1: BUY YOUR DANG GLASSES WELL IN ADVANCE!

Pevely Cops Facing Three Lawsuits

20 Aug

The Pevely police force has had some issues recently, included accusations of policing for profit and carrying out quotas enacted by the former mayor, “losing” a bunch of city gun money, and just this week being accused of letting an incompetent repo man get away after he damaged a car he wasn’t entitled to repossess (the PD posted and then deleted some comments on the linked Facebook thread). But the city is now facing a lawsuit in an excessive force case, the Leader reported last week, as well as two suits regarding a deadly police chase.

The excessive force lawsuit (full text here) accuses three cops of beating up Robert Golden Jr. after pulling him over in November 2016. The suit says they pulled him over for no reason in an unmarked car on Highway 61 and emerged with guns drawn. Golden, seeing no indication the men with guns were actual officers, drove away and continued on until he saw a Herculaneum officer and then stopped. The Pevely cops pulled up and allegedly immediately began whaling on him and forced him to say “I’m a pussy” several times. Golden was then taken to jail. Nothing illegal was found on him. He was given citations for “Failure to Yield to Emergency Vehicle” and “Failure to Maintain a Single Lane of Traffic.” After being released, Golden went to the hospital for treatment.

Notably, one of the accused in this suit is Tony Moutray, the acting chief of police since October (right before the beating took place). Recently, the city decided to accept applications for a new permanent chief, but some expressed dismay that Moutray was not simply handed the job. Steve Markus and Don Menkhus, who I consider to be the good old boy faction on the council, voted against seeking outside applicants, as did John Norton.

It seems like this suit should be pretty easy to decide  – just look at the dashboard camera footage. It will tell us if anything warranted such rough conduct by the police (and to what extent they actually beat him). If there is no such footage, we have reason to be suspicious. The suit alleges that Moutray yelled out “make sure your cameras are off” to his fellow cops during the beatdown. Many times have we seen rogue cops allege that there just happened to be a malfunction with their camera, or they forgot to turn it on, when alleged misconduct occurred.

Police Chase Suit

Two separate lawsuits arise out of a police chase in 2014 in which two Pevely cops and two Missouri Highway patrolmen engaged in high-speed pursuit with a car that ended up crashing, killing three occupants. It seems that speeding was the only offense the driver of the fleeing car was suspected of, but the cops still pursued him at up to 125 mph and deployed several spike strips. The question is whether all of this dangerous chasing was justified given the minor offense the police were interested in.

The common thread that connects all three of these suits is two officers who are named as defendants in each one: Kyle Weiss and Brian Benjamin. I know Pevely doesn’t have that many police, but to have the same officers accused in each suit would seem to suggest a problem.

Weiss previously got in trouble for releasing non-public information about the (now deceased) son of Pevely regime critic Dave Bewig onto Facebook in August 2014, which is a class A misdemeanor that JeffCo Prosecutor Forrest (Wrist Slap) Wegge apparently chose not to prosecute.

Despite all these issues, Weiss was hired on by the Arnold Police a few months ago. I don’t know what the circumstances of his departure from Pevely were.

Waller Won’t Run Again; What’s Next?

31 Jul

Jefferson County executive Ken Waller announced on July 17 that he won’t run for a third term next year, according to the Leader.

Waller, a Republican, did not close the door on running for something else; he cited his $65,000 campaign war chest and said there were state and county level positions that “may be appealing” to him. In a KJFF interview, I’m told that he specifically cited county clerk and circuit clerk as two jobs he might be interested. These are two interesting choices.

The circuit clerk job is currently held by another Republican, Mike Reuter. He is the husband of one of Waller’s main foes on the county council, Renee Reuter. Waller kicked her out of the JeffCo seat on the East-West Gateway Board last month after she called him out for trying to take away money the county was using to defend itself against lawsuits Waller is involved in. And Jeremy Day, who has announced his intention to run for the GOP nomination for county clerk, is one of the people who brought the recall petition against Waller.

Given these facts, it would almost appear that Waller selected the positions he may run for, not out of personal talents or interest, but out of spite for his political enemies. That is not a good look.

It would also be strange if Waller were to face off in the general election against incumbent Democrat Randy Holman for county clerk. Waller appointed Holman to that position when Wes Wagner resigned. How would Waller argue that the guy he appointed should be voted out of office?

As for city administrator jobs, Waller confirms what was reported exclusively here, that he unsuccessfully attempted to get the Festus job earlier this year. I see in the Leader ads that Hillsboro is looking for a city administrator/city clerk, but they are only offering $45-55,000 in salary. I suspect that’s lower than what Waller will accept. The Festus job was worth $90,000, and Waller currently makes about $81,000. And until recently, he used to be part of a lawsuit suing the taxpayers for more salary.

Council Makes Right Decision on a Rezoning

29 Jul

It was heartening to read in this week’s Leader that the Jefferson County Council reversed a previous negative vote on a rezoning proposal for a trailer sales and service facility near DeSoto on July 24, putting the project on track for approval. While the GOP-dominated council has done good things over the years, too often it has shot down proposals for the new businesses that our county needs. Instead it defers in too many cases to the overwrought, predictable concerns of neighbors who want to control other people’s property.

In this case, council members Dan Stallman and Jim Kasten (the lone Democrat) voted yes both times, while Renee Reuter changed from no to yes and Don Bickowski switched from abstain to yes. Previously absent Jim Terry voted yes also. Bob Boyer and Charles Groeteke were the no votes both times. The original 3-2 vote against became a 5-2 vote in favor.

I did not like the quote in the Leader from Reuter, who said:

It’s always difficult when you have competing groups from the public. I try to vote with what I think is the majority.

That should not be the criteria, whether a majority of neighbors approve of a proposal. These are situations where people are trying to do things with their own land. Zoning rules have a purpose, but unless a proposal presents an egregious issue, property owners should be able to proceed with their projects. In this case, the county’s Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z), which considers proposals before the council does, voted unanimously to recommend this project for approval.

The P&Z made the same unanimous vote in another recent controversial case, in which an apartment complex has been proposed for a long-vacant parcel in Imperial. Of course, the neighbors want to continue to have an empty lot next to them. Don’t we all want to control the land around us for our benefit? Groeteke invoked the classic argument against new developments:

I’m not against development. We need development in Jefferson County. But this is not the right kind of development.

Opponents of new projects always say they approved of new projects, just not in the proposed location, which happens to be near their house. This same argument was advanced to oppose converting another long-vacant building in Imperial to transitional housing for the homeless (which P&Z recently voted in favor of). They want the project to go near someone else’s house. Groeteke also invoked the often-seen “layperson knows best” argument about this property that has been for sale for 12 years.

I think it would be conducive to professional or medical offices, he said. The key is to get more revenue for the county, not just apartment buildings where people just live there.

Everyone thinks they know what project should go where, but they aren’t businesspeople or developers. Clearly the market has no interest in putting offices in this location. And I will add that the people who would have occupied these apartments would have paid plenty of local sales and personal property taxes, and the apartment owner would have paid property taxes. Plus, adding 84 apartments worth of people to the area might encourage more businesses to open.

The apartment project was rejected by the council on a 6-1 vote, with Boyer the only vote in favor. It was officially denied by the same vote at the July 24 council meeting.

As for the affirmative vote on the trailer sales proposal, county executive Ken Waller approved of it, saying correctly that the council has “talked about growth and economic development for a long time.”

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