The notion that Air Assurance tried to destroy BA Schools records by setting their storage unit on fire was spread through the media in an attempt to bolster the claim that Air Assurance was in on a cover-up.
The audit found that the fire probably had nothing to do with Air Assurance or BA Schools. But the incident raises some suspicions.
Media attention focused immediately on the AA storage unit, even though it was uninvolved in the fire. Why would anybody besides the facility management even know AA had a storage unit there? How did the story get so quickly from the fire department – complete with implications of AA’s guilt – to the media?
The affidavit makes it sound like the storage unit was opened and its contents inspected before the search warrant was approved. Why would AA’s unit have been opened if the fire didn’t reach it? Who opened it? If it was opened to verify that nothing was smoldering in there, why did fire department personnel go through the boxes stored in it? Were other unaffected units in the area opened? The leaked audit makes it sound like Fire Marshall Thompson was the one who looked through the contents, and that he found boxes labeled “BA Schools” that contained invoices. In a later interview, he did not remember seeing boxes labeled “BA Schools”. Who reported that he HAD seen these boxes?
The affidavit falsely stated that the storage unit contained “Invoices and billing information between Air Assurance and Broken Arrow Schools between January 1, 1998 and this date”, and that there were boxes labeled “BA Schools”, and also falsely, that they contained invoices. This could not have been an innocent mistake; there is no way someone would have mistakenly thought the boxes said “BA Schools” when they said nothing like it, or that they contained invoices when they didn’t. There is also no way the author could have known dates on invoices and billing information that weren’t there. This was written intentionally in a way to give the false impression that AA was trying to destroy evidence involved in the investigation. The affidavit said that Fire Marshall Thompson would verify that he had found these items. The signer of the affidavit is a member of the BA police department, who had access to the police report Sisney had filed, either from the department’s records or from Sisney’s team.
The investigation was moved from the fire department to the police department because someone in the fire department was leaking information to the media. Since all the media reports showed AA in a negative light, encouraging readers to jump to the conclusion that they had set the fire to destroy evidence, it’s a good bet that the leaker was a Sisney supporter, which explains Suspicions 2 and 3.
But how did this fire department employee find out so fast that an AA unit was nearby, and manage to capitalize so fast on giving the impression that there were records relevant to the investigation stored there, and that AA might have set the fire to destroy them? This still doesn’t add up. It’s as if the affidavit and press stories were prepared before the fire was set, listing the contents that would throw suspicion on Air Assurance, and giving the fire department an opportunity to search through the contents of the storage unit.
A former AA employee now working for a competitor might have known the location of the storage unit. Someone wanting an excuse to look through the contents of a storage unit would of course have avoided setting that particular unit on fire.
The media ran with accusations about Sisney’s replacement, Dr. Gerber, spending his entire first three days on the job shredding invoices and documents related to the alleged conspiracy with Air Assurance. Put together with the conclusions they led us to about Air Assurance also trying to destroy the same documents, a complete picture of a coverup was promoted in the media. We were supposed to believe that the billing documents contained evidence of overbilling, billing for work not done, and doing unnecessary work, as Jim Sisney claimed. We were told that school employees had tampered with invoices to cover up, and they didn’t want them compared to the original invoices. The media was delighted to be able to announce that the participants in the corrupt scheme were desperately trying to eliminate evidence before the authorities could investigate. Judging from the comments, a lot of people fell for it. Another win for Team Sisney in the one-sided PR war.
Ann Wade promoted the impression that Dr. Gerber tried to destroy evidence by feigning concern about Gerber having access to the original documents and pretending that it was because of her suspicions that she gave him only copies. Another rumor that was meant to sound ominous was that Gerber locked staff out of the storage room where documents were kept. In reality, the storage room is always kept locked, and it is normal procedure to take only copies out.
Air Assurance has a complete set of documentation for the work they have done at Broken Arrow Schools. So does Broken Arrow Schools. If Dr. Gerber shredded anything, it certainly wasn’t anything relevant to the investigation. And Air Assurance had absolutely no reason to start a fire in the wrong storage unit to destroy evidence they kept elsewhere and offered to provide to investigators.
For many months, Sisney supporters continued to hint about fires, as if merely mentioning it would bolster their other (equally preposterous) arguments, and send Jolie and 612 scurrying for cover. We certainly got tired of pointing out the implausibility of it (at which point they criticized us for repeating ourselves. Sheesh, stop making us!). But as the audit showed, there was never the tiniest support for the claim – widely spread through the media – that anyone tried to destroy evidence.
It was all made up. Where are the media stories about the conspiracy to smear innocent people? The news outlets were so quick to inform us of Sisney’s shaky claims of corruption in our public schools – we needed to know that right away! And the public – including many parents of Broken Arrow students – still thinks our school employees and Air Assurance cheated the District, and that our board ladies wrongly fired the superintendent just because he tried to get to the bottom of it. Why is it okay to leave the public with that impression? Come on, Ashli Sims, Tulsa World, and Broken Arrow Ledger. You were there every time Sisney opened his mouth. Where were you when the audit proved that everything that came out of it was a lie?