Criminal Conduct in Gilbert Public Schools?

The GPS Good Old Boys’ network is shattering. GOBs are running for the hills. You didn’t think Barb VeNard’s abrupt departure was a spur-of-the-moment decision, did you? We’re scratching our heads that Good Old Clyde Dangerfield announced his retirement at the beginning of the school year, giving himself a year to cover his tracks. Like that really worked out well for Good Old Dave Allison. <snarky sarcasm>

There was a special meeting of the GPS Governing Board on March 11, 2014 to approve a new contract for a new Interim Superintendent, Dr. Jim Rice. There was this nugget of information, too:

It is recommended that the Governing Board approve the attached letter and authorization requesting that the Gilbert Police Department investigate the alleged destruction of a large volume of public records which occurred on or around May 2011.

This letter shall serve as formal Board approval to consent to a search of and access to District property by the Gilbert Police Department including but not limited to network systems, hard drive, data storage, servers, etc. to ensure that the authorities are able to conduct a comprehensive investigation.

Board President Staci Burk explained this letter would make it unnecessary for the Gilbert Police Department to get subpoenas and search warrants when investigating the complaint that has been filed. Apparently, this is a step toward filing an insurance claim with the Arizona Schools Risk Retention Trust to recoup $2Million  for GPS. Interestingly, just a few weeks ago, Mike Tiffany made a presentation at a GPS board meeting, and some pointed questions were put to the dude from ASRRT, The Trust:

“What if our own employee created a significant loss? Can ASRRT reimburse Gilbert Public Schools for the loss?” A GPS employee acted with negligence.  Board members don’t think the community should suffer. Mike Tiffany pointed out The Trust covers employees, too.

Long story short: the board voted 3-1 to send the letter to speed up the police investigation into what happened to make the district lose $2Million. Jill Humpherys voted against. Lily Tram missed the meeting. Why was sending this letter controversial at all?

It used to be that $2Million was a drop in the bucket to GPS GOBs – they had big technology override funding and a lot of pals to help them spend their money. This 2007 technology override, for $57.4Million, was a separate pot of taxpayer money for GPS.  It was earmarked to purchase computers for students and give them access to the internet. A former board member had this to say about the technology override money management:

What we received on that investment as far as we can tell is -only- access to the internet…  albeit, excellent, high quality, access to the internet purchased through a new vendor, Hewlett Packard. Barb VeNard, director of educational services and technology at Gilbert Public Schools, according to the Arizona Republic who obtained copies of the emails through a public records request, sent emails to her husband Jim VeNard, who has been a long time salesman of HP products. These emails allegedly forward inside information about the Cisco price quote during the negotiations of the deal. According to Barb VeNard, there was not a sweetheart deal and instead a pair of independent consultants were hired that recommended the deal to the governing board. According to the Arizona Republic, “In mid-summer, she hired for $3,000 a family friend to act as a  consultant, Mike Weaver, and an assistant, Ravi Achanta, to compare the networks  in price and quality. The men work for in Tempe but were acting as independent consultants.”  According to these sources, Ms. VeNard hired a family friend to recommend the deal to the board, after she had sent inside cost information to her husband’s email.

The technology deal that smelled to high heaven was a 2009 gig, so that HP deal must not be what’s behind a $2Million loss of GPS tax money. Revisiting the board meeting with the ASRRT presentation, we found clues that we had unearthed in earlier posts and connected some dots to figure out:

A big problem for taxpayers was that Clyde didn’t read the CrossPointe contract he advised the board to sign, and later, when there was a question, well … let’s just say our boy had to admit he hadn’t read it. Staff had begged Clyde to read the contract before it went to the governing board, which was expecting something really different than what the contract said. GPS was flush with lots of taxpayer money from a technology override, and for some reason or another, someone wanted to give a contract to a different company … perhaps to extricate Clyde from his dilemma of not reading the CrossPointe contract?

Things seem to be coming around in a circle as the dots line up. We reviewed the RFPs and contracts for CrossPointe in the GPS Purchasing Department in July 2013. We asked for deposition records in the GPS v CrossPointe lawsuit a few months later; GPS told us to pound sand, those depositions were not relevant to our lawsuit, they claimed. We got the deposition records from another source, and lo and behold … they were exceedingly relevant in ways we had not anticipated. We posted about some of our discoveries a while back. We discovered an email that showed Assistant Superintendent Clyde Dangerfield, Esquire did not read the contract, although IT staffer Jean Holte urged him to wade into the weeds on some fine points related to this $1.7Million contract. Clyde said he doesn’t have time to read everything that crosses his desk. Jean didn’t have a job after February 2010, according to Superintendent Cabinet Minutes we received through a public records request.

In June 2010, GPS contracted with Infinite Campus for $1.2Million for replacement student information system software. Somewhere in this saga is the $2Million loss that the Governing Board wants to recoup. The first GPS effort to recoup was a lawsuit, which attorney Brad Holm of Holm, Wright, Hyde and Hays bragged in January 2011 would be a slam dunk win in a short time. We know that didn’t work out so well for GPS. We have wondered, as have many of you loyal viewers, what happened to change the rosy outlook and cause GPS to suddenly settle in mediation.

Circle back to the agenda quoted above: “alleged destruction of a large volume of public records which occurred on or around May 2011.” The date is significant because GPS was smack in the middle of a lawsuit GPS filed. Whatever those public records were, it’s pretty obvious they were related to the lawsuit in federal court. We’re getting closer to an answer about why GPS suddenly settled the lawsuit with no money changing hands. We’ve heard rumors that GPS lost at least $500,000 in costs incurred during that lawsuit. Maybe that’s how we get to $2Million dollars … the $1.7Million GPS paid for software, and the costs of the lawsuit.

GPS funded the lawsuit with taxpayer dollars that were earmarked for educating students. ASRRT, The Trust, doesn’t kick in to pay legal expenses for prosecuting a lawsuit; they pay only to defend lawsuits filed against the district. So what’s the criminality in destroying a large volume of public records? Here it is in a couple of state laws:

ARS 13-2407. Tampering with a public record; classification

A. A person commits tampering with a public record if, with the intent to defraud or deceive, such person knowingly:
4. Destroys, mutilates, conceals, removes or otherwise impairs the availability of any public record;
B. In this section “public record” means all official books, papers, written instruments or records created, issued, received or kept by any governmental office or agency or required by law to be kept by others for the information of the government.
C. Tampering with a public record is a class 6 felony.

ARS 13-2809. Tampering with physical evidence; classification

A. A person commits tampering with physical evidence if, with intent that it be used, introduced, rejected or unavailable in an official proceeding which is then pending or which such person knows is about to be instituted, such person:
1. Destroys, mutilates, alters, conceals or removes physical evidence with the intent to impair its verity or availability; or
2. Knowingly makes, produces or offers any false physical evidence; or
3. Prevents the production of physical evidence by an act of force, intimidation or deception against any person.
B. Inadmissibility of the evidence in question is not a defense.
C. Tampering with physical evidence is a class 6 felony.

 ARS 38-421. Stealing, destroying, altering or secreting public record; classification

A. An officer having custody of any record, map or book, or of any paper or proceeding of any court, filed or deposited in any public office, or placed in his hands for any purpose, who steals, or knowingly and without lawful authority destroys, mutilates, defaces, alters, falsifies, removes or secretes the whole or any part thereof, or who permits any other person so to do, is guilty of a class 4 felony.

The question we all have to ask: why did Jill Humpherys vote against sending the letter to the Gilbert Police Department? Is she protecting the Good Old Boys? Doesn’t she care that millions of taxpayer dollars are at stake, dollars that should have been spent in the classroom, educating students? How can Jill Humpherys square her vote against the investigation with her fiduciary duty to taxpayers, citizens and students? There will be more to this story, folks.

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