Tag Archives: critchlow

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.

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.

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