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Action Alert: Last Sliver of Hope for Critchlow Justice

8 Oct

I know I’ve been posting a lot of Critchlow stuff lately, but I can’t help it when material keeps coming up. Here, I will give you an action item to pursue if you are so inclined.

When JeffCo Prosecutor Forrest (Wrist Slap) Wegge punted the Dianne Critchlow Fox theft case to the feds, it went to the US Attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri to decide on federal prosecution, assisted by an FBI investigation. As you recall, the feckless Feds announced their decision not to prosecute in November of 2016.

But now there is a new boss at the Eagleton Courthouse. As is customary when a new president takes office, the US Attorney has been replaced. The new one, Jeffrey Jensen, was appointed by President Trump and sworn in on Friday. Jensen is a former FBI agent and accountant, a resume that would seem ideal for prosecuting crimes like these.

So I am thinking maybe, just maybe, we can get Jensen to reopen the case and right a horrendous wrong. But we need to make him aware of this need. Therefore, I am asking everyone to call his office. The number is 314-539-2200. If you use Twitter, you can contact them here.

 

Here are some talking points:

  • The Missouri state auditor says Critchlow misappropriated over $200,000 of taxpayer money to directly benefit herself and her family.
  • Her wrongdoing cost the Fox school district up to $1.1 million.
  • She used district credit cards for personal spending, fraudulently increased her own salary, and awarded scholarships to her own children.
  • She led a reign of terror, rewarding her cronies financially while threatening the jobs of anyone who questioned her.
  • This violation of the trust of taxpayers at the expense of school children cannot be allowed to go unpunished.
  • The local investigation into this matter was tainted by conflict of interest.

This is very likely the last chance to get any justice in the Critchlow case, and it is a slim one. The federal statute of limitations is generally five years, so charges should still be possible. Thank you for your assistance, and if you get any feedback when you call, let me know.

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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.

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.

Arnold: Where Failure is Cool

26 Jul

I saw this photo in the Leader this week:

sammons arn board

This illustrates an interesting principle in Arnold, that failure and unethical behavior does not get punished, nor does it remove you from “polite” society. See Margie Sammons there? She resigned as chief of the Rock Ambulance district under an ethical and professional cloud after allowing the district’s narcotics license to lapse for the third time and after being found to have helped with the campaigns of some board members while going to great lengths to try to have another board member removed. Yet there she is, still on the board of the Arnold Chamber of Commerce, which she joined at least seven years ago.

As a bonus, look who’s speaking at the next meeting: police chief Robert Shockey, who got his son-in-law hired on with free police academy training, sold items from his personal businesses to the city of Arnold, and filed a bogus, politically-motivated lawsuit against the city to get money. But he has faced few repercussions from all this, other than a public rebuke by some city council members.

Sammons has also stayed in good stead with the Rotary Club. Here she is being celebrated by the club upon her “retirement.”

sammons retire rotary

One could also cite the Fox school district as an example of this phenomenon, where administrators who posted foul statements online and/or abetted the Dianne Critchlow regime keep their jobs (albeit after a demotion), while pals of Critchlow get elected to the school board and nobody goes to jail.

Jefferson County, Missouri Solar Eclipse Happenings

8 Jul

The Monday, August 21 total solar eclipse is fast approaching, and Jefferson County has a front row seat. As one moves south from Arnold to DeSoto, the amount of time that the sun will be completely covered (totality) will increase from 2 minutes and 8 seconds up to 2:40, so the further south you go, the longer the eclipse you get to see (until you pass Desoto, then it starts decreasing again). The partial eclipse will start at about 11:45 am, the total eclipse will start at 1:17 pm +/- 20 seconds (starting earlier in the south), and the partial eclipse will end at about 2:45 pm.

Here’s a map from eclipsewise.com:

eclipse-map2

 

The red line is the path of longest duration and the blue line is the limit of where you can see the total eclipse. So much of St. Louis is not in the eclipse zone, and we can expect many visitors from up north on eclipse day, as well as visitors from outside the area. For example, Festus is anticipating thousands of people at its eclipse-day festivities, and all the hotels there are booked up. One estimate says the county’s population will more than double on August 21. So plan on traffic and crowds if you are going out in public that day, especially if you are going south. Get there early.

Here is a list of eclipse activities happening in Jefferson County. The number after each location denotes the duration of totality at that site. I will update this as needed leading up to the big day. Let me know if there’s an event I should add.

Note: Schools in Jefferson County are starting classes the week before the eclipse, and are scheduled to be in session on the 21st (except Sunrise, which starts the 23rd). Update: Schools have been deciding in July and August to cancel classes for the day. Only Fox and Northwest are now planning to be in session.

Arnold, 2:08: Three day event with car show, fun run, science booths, kids events, and a bluegrass festival.

Kimmswick, 2:20: One day of trivia, music, shops, raffles, and a live radio broadcast.

Herculaneum, 2:32: Three-day festival with fun run, parade, live music, and kids activities. Herky also has an array of merchandise available (some other cities have shirts as well).

House Springs, 2:34: The JeffCo Parks and Rec Department is recommending its Northwest Jefferson County Sports Complex as a viewing site. Also, the Deer Creek USA golf course will have a viewing.

Festus, 2:35: Informational presentations, other unnamed activities that weekend.

Hillsboro (Jefferson College), 2:38: One day event with concessions, souvenirs, and activities for the whole family. Viewing will also occur at the Civic Club.

DeSoto, 2:40: A number of viewing sites throughout town on eclipse day, some with food and activities. The AmVets Post seems to have the most excitement planned.

The branches of the JeffCo library will be holding events as well (Arnold, Barnhart, High Ridge).

And for good measure, I’ll throw in:

Ste. Genevieve (2:40): Music festival on Sunday, eclipse viewing with food, entertainment, and exhibits on Monday.

The Leader also has an eclipse guide.

P.S. – Get your eclipse glasses for safe viewing.

Grandview School Theft Results in Guilty Plea

5 Jul

Unlike Fox’s Dianne Critchlow, the culprit in the theft of $1.6 million from the Grandview R-II school district, Angela Huskey, will face legal consequences, as she has plead guilty to felony fraud in federal court last week. According to the Post-Dispatch:

At her Oct. 13 sentencing, Huskey faces roughly four to five years in prison under recommended federal sentencing guidelines. She will also be ordered to repay the money.

Huskey has agreed to forfeit nearly $200,000 in various accounts and a two bedroom condo at Table Rock Lake, or the condo’s sales proceeds.

Interestingly, Huskey employed the same law firm as Critchlow – Newton Barth. They must be the go-to lawyers for public school fraudsters. But the important difference is that, while Critchlow was a superintendent, Huskey was a mere business manager. Hence, while Critchlow got put on paid administrative leave and then was allowed to retire with a big separation payment, Huskey was put on unpaid leave (after a brief period of paid leave) and then quickly fired. And now Huskey likely goes to jail while Critchlow walks free.

Staggering Swindle

In a statement, superintendent Matt Zoph, who took over the job a year or so ago, said that when the district “became aware of possible irregularities relating to the district’s internal fiscal controls, we worked diligently and aggressively to determine the nature and scope of the irregularities.” However, it took ten years for this awareness to take place. According to the feds (the same ones who gave Critchlow a pass), Huskey started stealing money as far back as summer of 2006, stopping only when she was discovered and fired in October of last year.

 

How could this happen? How could one person be able to get away with all of this without being caught? Where was the administration? Where was the school board? These are questions that the district will need to answer. The district is currently reviewing policies and procedures, to prevent such theft in the future. But this is about more than policies, it is about the people who are supposed to lead the district.

Facing Accountability

Grandview officials have not said much about this case, citing the federal investigation, but that is over now – it is time for them to start talking. The district said they are working on holding a special board meeting to discuss this incident with the public. This needs to happen quickly. As I stated in a previous post, there needs to be a state audit. Never mind that the district just spend $80,000 to have Dan Jones do a special audit of the district; a state audit is open, public, and wide-ranging. If the school board requests it, and the auditor agrees to take it on, there is no cost to the district. This is what happened at Fox.

The Grandview school board needs to be taken to task, and current members need to be removed. They were clearly not doing their jobs. Back in April, two board members were replaced: Dion Moore lost his bid for re-election and board president Randy Wakefield decided not to run for another term. Next April, two board members will be on the ballot if they choose to run again –  board president Bob Gearhart and Abe Eoff.

At the June board meeting, Zoph stated that a request for proposals had been put out for a new auditing firm. Schowalter and Jobouri Financial Services of St. Louis County has previously done the district’s annual audits. As we have seen in many districts, these are basic types of audits that every school does that are apparently unable to catch fraud.

According to Zoph, via the April 27 Leader, the district’s insurance will cover any financial losses related to wrongdoing. Conversely, Fox does not think its insurance will cover anything and does not seem to be planning to pursue a claim (maybe because there were no charges?).

We have already started to hear “time to move on” language, like we hear from Fox. Let’s not dwell on this, they may say, it’s bad for the children. But in reality that’s just a way to prematurely end the search for accountability, punishment, and reparations. Here’s what Zoph said in April:

What happened in the past is in the past. We are going to make everything correct in the future.

But the residents of Grandview can help ensure that we don’t move on too quickly. They can look to DeSoto for an example, where over 1,200 people joined a Facebook group in late April in support of a fired principal. The group has turned out in force at board meetings, raised money for the principal, held planning meetings, and started collecting signatures to have a state audit performed.

At Fox, there was a brief surge of activism, with a widely followed Facebook page (which seems to have been removed), huge attendance at board meetings, and plenty of anger. But recent school board elections have failed to produce real candidates of change.

Grandview parents do have a watchdog style Facebook page, but has only about 240 members. This could be a place to organize and share ideas.

The next scheduled Grandview school board meeting is July 20.

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