East Valley Institute of Technology Superintendent Chad Wilson won a major – but possibly temporary – victory after the Arizona Attorney General’s Office agreed to dismiss criminal charges against him.
But the dismissal of theft and misuse of public monies charges against Wilson is without prejudice – leaving open the possibility they could be pursued by prosecutors at some future time.
Wilson was indicted on the charges stemming from his tenure as Apache Junction Superintendent of Schools. The indictment came down only a month or so after the EVIT Governing Board promoted him to superintendent.
Wilson served in the job on an interim basis prior to the EVIT board’s ouster of longtime superintendent Sally Downey.
The indictment on the theft charge automatically cost Wilson his state fingerprint clearance card, a requirement of the superintendent’s position at EVIT.
But the EVIT board accommodated Wilson, moving him to the position of director of external affairs – which did not require the clearance card – until his legal problems could be addressed.
Before this move, Wilson was forced to take vacation time and his future appeared in doubt.
Dana Kuhn, an assistant principal, was promoted to serve as acting superintendent, although Wilson was still eligible to participate in leadership meetings.
“We applaud the Attorney General’s decision to withdraw these unprecedented charges and reconsider the Auditor General’s flawed investigation. No crime occurred here. The Auditor General proposed a novel theory that would criminalize the state educational budget process,’’ said Mark Kokanovich of Ballard Spahr, one of Wilson’s defense attorneys.
“They are matters to be handled within a school district, not the criminal justice system,” Kokanovich added. “Chad looks forward to continuing to work with educators from across the valley to change the lives of the students and communities he serves.’’
In a court filing, the Attorney General’s Office conceded the defense raised substantial issues in a motion to remand the case back to the grand jury and further investigation is required.
“Counsel for the defendant raised issues and possible defenses in it’s motion to remand the required additional investigation before the matter can proceed to the state grand jury,’’ a prosecutor wrote.
“The parties acknowledge this investigation will likely exceed the 15-day timeframe normally imposed for a remand, so for these reasons, the state requests the case be dismissed without prejudice to allow this investigation to take place,’’ the prosecutor’s motion stated.
The state Attorney General’s Office used an audit by the Arizona Auditor General to obtain charges of misuse of public monies, alleging Wilson arranged for $133,223 in payments not authorized by the Apache Junction Governing Board to administrators from 2012 to 2016.
The $126,000 in “performance payments’’ went to 11 to 15 administrators, while another $3,880 was spent on “professional development instruction’’ and $2,550 was spent on paying three administrators to attend athletic events on Friday nights.
Wilson received $480 in unauthorized payments, according to the audit.
In the motion to remand, Wilson’s attorneys argued prosecutors provided the grand jury with misleading evidence. They wrote investigator Tina Mann testified the board needed to approve expenditures in advance.
However, Mann did not mention some expenditures could be approved afterward while others did not require any form of board approval.
The motion said the state did not provide the grand jury with the Apache Junction policies Wilson was accused of violating.
“Instead, the state’s presentation relied on a witnesses’ flawed and misleading interpretation of district policy, a mischaracterization of interviews with district employees related to district policy, and a withholding of evidence suggests Dr. Wilson actually complied with district policy,’’ the defense motion said.
The defense motion also implied political interference may have played a role in Wilson’s indictment.
It noted a policy advisor for the state Legislature initially requested the Auditor General’s Office investigate the case.
The defense motion said the Auditor General’s initial response was the mere violation of district policies did not necessarily rise to the level of committing a crime.
Kevin Koelbel, the district’s director of legal services, said the EVIT board will not consider giving Wilson his superintendent’s job back until he obtains the fingerprint clearance card.
It is unclear how quickly this may occur.