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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.

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Raise Jefferson College Pool Fees

28 Apr

There has been a lot of consternation in the past month over the proposal by Jefferson College to close the swimming pool at its Hillsboro campus as part of a package of budget cuts in the face of reduced state funding. The opposition has been led by seniors that frequent the pool for exercise. According to the Leader, the pool costs $85,000 per year to operate.

The only choices I have seen bandied about in the numerous articles and letters in the Leader are to close the pool or keep it open just as it is now. But nobody seems to mention an obvious possibility: raise admission prices. The pool currently charges $2 for a one-day pass for members of the community, and only $1 per day for seniors. Meanwhile, it costs $6 to access the indoor pool in Arnold ($5 for seniors), and $5 in Crystal City (adult swim time is $3 for seniors).

The College pool also offers kids swimming lessons for $105/10 sessions and adult water exercise courses (popular with the seniors) at $99/30 sessions. The latter comes out to $3.30 per session, compared to $4.17 per session for adult classes in Arnold.

I don’t know how much money the pool currently brings in from user fees, or how much additional income prices hikes could generate, but it seems like there is some room for fee increases. This would close some of that $85,000 gap, which in government terms isn’t a lot of money. If people are serious about saving the Jefferson College pool, price hikes should definitely be on the table.

Pevely-Style Actions Shot Down by Area Judges

26 Apr

Two recent court rulings should prompt Pevely to change some practices that would now appear to be unlawful. The practices are charging money for redaction of material for open records requests and limiting what can be said in the public comment portion of board meetings.

Sunshine Law Overcharging

First, in January, a St. Louis County judge said that the county prosecutor could not charge fees to a Sunshine Law requestor for the time it took to segregate open (releasable) records from closed records. The government body has to do this free of charge (they can still charge for finding and copying documents).

Pevely is in the habit, when receiving certain records requests, of demanding a payment of $125 dollars up front so the city attorney, Sean Westhoff of Duggan & Westhoff in Imperial, can separate open from closed records. In one instance, this review was merely of minutes of closed sessions of board of aldermen meetings to “redact the personally identifiable personnel information.” That requires an attorney?! In another instance, Pevely claimed that attorney fees were needed to provide a copy of a lawsuit settlement and the results of closed session roll call votes. Again, no attorney is needed for this; all of this material is clearly a public record under Missouri law. Is the city trying to thwart the Sunshine Law, or merely taking bad advice from another bad JeffCo municipal lawyer?

Pevely’s actions are quite similar to what happened in the St. Louis County lawsuit. The decision there only impacts that county though. But if someone were to sue Pevely over this, they might have a good case. But government entities often rely on the fact that most people have neither the money or inclination to pursue such a lawsuit. Pevely should stop charging exorbitant legal fees for Sunshine requests.

Public Comment Censoring

In University City, a resident spoke during public comment to call for the censure of the mayor. The mayor flipped out, had the police remove the man, and banned him from future meetings. A federal judge responded:

In her order on Tuesday, District Judge Audrey Fleissig also ordered the city to pay Roberts’ lawyer fees and costs totaling $3,060, according to the consent decree.

Fleissig also ordered that the city “cease making a public statement at city council meetings that personal attacks on councilmembers will be ruled out of order” and “cease making a public statement at city council meetings that councilmembers’ motives may not be called into question.”

Also:

The decision also calls for the city to “develop, implement, and enforce a written policy prohibiting content-based restrictions on speech during the public comment period at city council meetings.”

In Pevely, the city demands that only topics on the meeting agenda can be mentioned in public comments. But how are residents supposed to air their concerns about issues that the city has not deemed important enough to put on the agenda? The public comment section is a way for residents to publicly raise concerns that all city officials may not be aware of (sometimes certain officials like to withhold information). This policy is just a way to censor comment. The city does allow you to request to be added to the meeting agenda, but this requires action days in advance of the meeting, creating hurdles to being heard.

The Fox School District also has a very restrictive comment policy. Not only do they limit the public to speaking on agenda items, they don’t allow the mention of specific employees (so you can’t say “the superintendent gave her son a scholarship” after your emails to the board go unanswered) and they ban non-residents from commenting. In addition, they demand a “specific outline” in advance of what you want to say. They can use this to decide to shunt you off into a closed session, ensuring that other residents can’t hear what you have to say.

In light of Judge Fleissig’s ruling, both of these entities need to reconsider their draconian public comment policies. I hear that a change may be coming in Pevely, which would be a good thing.

Critchlow was Reckless, But Prosecutors Feckless

19 Jan

Once again, an area prosecutor has declined to bring charges against disgraced former Fox C-6 superintendent Dianne Critchlow for her use of taxpayer funds as her personal piggy bank. This time it was St. Charles County prosecutor Tim Lohmar, who took over the case from JeffCo Prosecutor Wafflin’ (Forrest) Wegge, who first looked at the case, but then later decided to recuse himself.

Though none of us believe our justice system is perfect, we like to think, in the case of egregious offenses against the public trust, that people will be held accountable, and that those in powerful positions will be held to a higher standard. We trust that the many checks and balances that exist in our system will not let someone who commits public offenses get away with it.

But the system has failed here.

“The review of the investigation is now concluded,” Lohmar said in a statement, “with a finding that there were no violations of the criminal laws of the State of Missouri, and consequently, no criminal charges will be filed.”

Well hell’s bells. What does a superintendent have to do to get some jail time? Lohmar could not find any law that Critchlow had broken? I refuse to believe that our legal code is so inadequate that a prosecutor, who, as the saying goes, could indict a ham sandwich, could not find reason to charge Critchlow with anything. Back in June I, admittedly not a lawyer, perused the statutes and found several infractions that I think apply to Critchlow:

  • Felony stealing (B felony if over $25,000 stolen – multiple counts possible here)
  • Official misconduct (misdemeanor)
  • Fraudulent use of a credit device (felony if over $500 stolen within 30 days)
  • Fraudulent use of facsimile signature or seal (felony, 2-10 years jail). I’m not sure if this applies. We know she made unauthorized use of facsimile signatures on her contracts, but did she do so on “a public security or an instrument of payment?”
  • Tampering with physical evidence – felony in this case. Fox CFO John Brazeal said that several district employees destroyed electronic records and that former CFO Mark McCutchen shredded documents. Did Dianne do this or order others to do so?
  • Probably something securities related, having to do with the misuse of bond proceeeds that Brazeal reported in August 2014. While it noted the district’s failures in bond issuance, the auditor’s report did not mention anything about how bond proceeds were used.

A Review of the Audit

Let me pull a few of the more damning findings out of the state audit report on the Fox school district, via the Post-Dispatch, to see what kind of actions that Lohmar found to be not worthy of charges:

  • She manipulated her own salary without board approval, the audit states, by drawing up contract adjustments and signing them with the board’s electronic signature to net about $20,000 over two years beyond what the school board had agreed to pay her. Her husband received about $89,000 in compensation that was never approved and wrongly paid.
  • Over two years ending in 2014, she racked up about $100,000 in questionable expenses on three school district credit cards for things such as iTunes gift cards, shampoo, watches, wedding gifts and a garlic press.
  • Critchlow’s two sons were awarded about $7,000 collectively in scholarship money through three district scholarship programs that she personally oversaw.
  • Logging equipment was purchased on Amazon and sent to Critchlow’s home. She and her husband were trying to start a land and timber improvement/sales company.

But hey, nothing to see here. Carry on. No laws were broken. The former superintendent at St. Joseph, Dan Colgan, has to wonder why he ended up in jail for his theft. Maybe they just have better prosecutors over on that side of the state.

State Auditor Nicole Galloway stands by her office’s audit findings:

My office stands by the facts included in the independent audit report. The former superintendent used taxpayer dollars to personally benefit herself and a select few individuals close to her at the expense of the students, families and staff of the Fox School District. Whether those facts rise to the level of a criminal prosecution is at the sole discretion of the prosecuting attorney.

Too bad we can’t rely on our prosecutors.

Critchlow to Sue?

Critchlow’s lawyer, Brandy Barth, said they’re now going to sue:

Barth said Critchlow plans to file a lawsuit. Critchlow is no longer working “because of the defamation,” Barth said. “She couldn’t get hired to do anything.”

(Note: she was working for international education conglomerate Pearson before this blog made that news public.)

Now, normally I would laugh at this. Filing a lawsuit would open up Critchlow to discovery. She would have to answer questions under oath about her actions as superintendent. She would not want to do that, and as such, a lawsuit would be too risky.

However, such a lawsuit would be filed against Fox school district. The board there has not given us any indication they would want to fight this. I have little doubt that they would roll over and quickly agree to a settlement with Critchlow to make this go away. I predict such a settlement would be in the $50-100,000 range.

Any More Hope?

The only possible avenue remaining for justice here is the state attorney general. I’m not sure if the AG can act in this situation; if not, then Critchlow is free to spend her ill-gotten gains as she sees fit with no fear of legal repercussions. If that is the case, it is indeed a sad day in Missouri.

Strike Two for Critchlow Justice, But Hope Remains

10 Nov

The news came out today (right before a holiday weekend) that the US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Missouri was not going to press federal charges against disgraced former superintendent Dianne Critchlow after a four-month investigation into her theft from the Fox school district, much to the anger of Arnold residents. This investigation took place after JeffCo prosecutor Forrest Wegge punted the case to the feds. Despite the adage that you can indict a ham sandwich, apparently you can’t indict a corrupt school administrator. I think perhaps the distinction, but not one that the US Attorney explicitly made, was that they could not find sufficient federal laws to prosecute her under.

But it’s not over quite yet. The JeffCo and St. Charles County prosecutor’s offices confirm that the St. Charles County prosecutor is going to review the case. An additional investigation is not taking place; prosecutor Tim Lohmar will take a look at what information has already been uncovered.

While I was initially told that the US Attorney appointed Lohmar, this was incorrect. It is most likely, but nobody could confirm this, that it was Wegge who passed this on to St. Charles County. But why? The most common reason for such a move is a conflict of interest. And on this note, I heard from a few people who believe that there is some sort of acquaintance/friendship between Wegge and Critchlow. This would be a reason for recusal, but Wegge did not pass on the initial investigation. He looked into the state audit results for 6 weeks before giving the case to the feds.

Is he trying to get a second opinion on what, if anything, to charge her with? (Here’s my list of suggestions). In any case, we have one last bit of hope that some legal repercussions will hit Critchlow. If not, this nauseating statement from her lawyer will stand:

“We are very pleased with the outcome of the federal investigation, clearing Dr. Critchlow of any wrongdoing,” [Brandy] Barth said in the statement.

“While she has allowed this investigation to run its course, she has always trusted in the system and believed that a fair and impartial investigation would clear her name. She is ecstatic that this day has finally arrived.”

Critchlow Update

25 Sep

Here’s what’s up in Critchlow land:

-You may recall that in mid-July, JeffCo prosecutor Forrest Wegge punted the Dianne Critchlow case to the US Attorney for possible federal charges after a 6-week investigation. That was 10 weeks ago – still no word from the feds.

-The Critchlow home in Arnold is still for sale – the price has plummeted 5.6% since being listed in June to $462,000. Maybe the Fox district could buy the house, and the four families on Chemin de la Vallee and Glenn Drive in Barnhart that are embroiled in a Dunklin-Fox boundary dispute could all take up residence. Or maybe Dunklin should buy it, since they’ve been getting the tax dollars from these families all these years without having to educate their kids.

-Jamie Critchlow has a trial date on October 28 for his challenge to the Dept. of Revenue’s revocation of his drivers license for failure to consent to a breathalyzer test. This relates to his May 30 arrest for DWI and leaving the scene of an accident, which is separately winding its way through the JeffCo court system. The judge for the DOR trial is Travis Partney, who is running for a full term to finish the term as judge on the November ballot. He was appointed to the position by Governor Nixon back in March. Before that, he worked for the JeffCo prosecutor’s office.

Ride Sharing Coming to JeffCo, Perhaps

9 Sep

Uber, the ridesharing service that lets you hail a ride with a smartphone app (and find a passenger if you are an Uber driver) is active in St. Louis City and County, but not here in JeffCo (specifically, you can get dropped off in JeffCo but not picked up). However, there is a new rideshare company that might start operating here in the near future.

The company is called Curvesides, and the company’s Missouri manager says that it will be active in the county when “100 riders who would love to drive” have signed up. The company is apparently live in St. Louis already.

Uber in STL charges riders a base fare of $1.75, plus $1.50 per mile, and Uber drivers get to keep about 80% of that. Curvesides says its drivers will pay the company a flat $60 per week, unless they make less than $300 in a week, in which case drivers pay 25% to the company. As for fares, Curvesides will charge a base fare of $6.75 (for 2 miles) plus $1.35 per mile. Curvesides will apparently not charge surge fares like Uber does when it is busy. Surges can increase fares by 2x or more during periods of high demand (like after a major concert).

Ride sharing is an alternative to taxis for getting home from the bar, going to the airport, or any other time you need a ride. Curvesides would have to reach a saturation point where you can get a ride any time of day within a few minutes in order to be a useful option. Uber has reached that point in St. Louis.

For those who want to make some extra money, ride sharing is a way to work whenever you want and wherever you want, independently. For Curvesides to be a worthwhile money-making opportunity, it will have to have a large rider base, to make it worth the effort for drivers. It does not appear to be close to reaching that point, even in St. Louis.

Insurance

Details about the service seem a bit vague, judging by the two websites I have linked above. One thing to consider, if you want to be a driver, is insurance. Your regular auto insurance company would frown upon you doing ride sharing, and probably drop you if they knew you were doing it (though some companies offer ride sharing riders to their policies). Uber covers you if you are heading to pick up a passenger, or transporting one, but if you are just driving around with the app on, waiting for a customer, you are not covered.

Curvesides reps say that “we have 1.5 million dollars of commercial insurance which will pay for what your insurance wont, unless your at fault then it becomes like all other insurance.” Their website, though, says “Curvesides has a  Million Dollar Commercial Liability insurance policy.” This is something you may want to get more information on if you want to be a driver.

The company has a Missouri specific Facebook page for drivers. They seem to be fairly responsive if you have questions.

I am a bit skeptical of the long term prospects of this venture, but check it out if it is something that interests you.

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