A private investigator's report confirms allegations that the head of the Hesperia Unified School District directed the district's police not to investigate the mishandling of student funds as a criminal matter.
In a May 31 report by the Redlands-based Titan Group, investigator Ed Saucerman weighed conflicting testimony from Superintendent Mark McKinney and HUSD police chief Mike Graham and concluded "that it is more likely than not that Superintendent McKinney directed Chief Graham not to investigate" alleged misappropriation of Sultana High School student government funds in 2009.
The charges were made at the March 28 school board meeting, when Graham and school police officer (and Hesperia City Councilman) Bill Holland claimed that McKinney had interfered with police business by preventing them from investigating the accounting regularities as a criminal investigation.
"Then the question remains," a partially redacted Nov. 16, 2009 e-mail from Graham to McKinney reads in part. "Are [redacted] now the suspect(s)? If so, then they need to be read their Miranda rights. Then what if they confess? We don't even have a case started, much less know the particulars. Early on I tried to take possession of this case because I saw the 'writing on the wall' that this would possibly end up as a criminal investigation. ... The statements the auditor obtained are 'hearsay' and cannot be used by the court. ... Because of the rule of law, we [need to] start a fresh investigation."
Instead, McKinney insisted it was an administrative matter and reportedly ordered Graham to back off.
The board received Saucerman's report at a special meeting on June 6. Three of the five board members signaled in the meeting that the district investigation was concluded. (The two remaining board members, Hardy Black and Anthony Riley, left the meeting shortly after it was called into session.)
Black called the investigator's report "pretty spot-on." According to him, the district's attempt to handle missing funds at school sites through administrative means over the years "went nowhere."
"The money wasn't missing," said school board president Chris Bentley, of the approximately $900 related to Sultana's football program. "It just wasn't deposited in the way it normally was."
Student government funds have been mishandled at all three of the district's comprehensive high schools, according to Bentley.
The police "waited until their budget and their department was under direct threat," he said. "If Graham and Holland had a problem [in 2009], why didn't they go to the board at that particular time?"
Saucerman's report said allegations by Graham that McKinney had attempted to retaliate against the school police for by cutting their budget were "unfounded," as the cuts were talked about prior to the allegations being made and it is up to the school board as to whether they want to have a police force at all.
Graham would not comment on the report -- which was sent only to the five school board members and was only obtained by the media after a California Public Records Act request -- except to say "Ed Saucerman's report speaks for itself."
"I think you'll be able to make your own determination," said Saucerman, when reached for comment.
Beau Yarbrough can be reached at 760-956-7108 or at email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook at Facebook.com/Hesperia.Star.