Former Skiatook superintendent Gary Johnson pleads guilty to accepting almost $30,000 in bribes from Rick Enos of E& E Sales
News headlines recently reported the arrest of former Skiatook Public Schools superintendent Gary Johnson on charges of accepting bribes related to the enormous overpayment for janitorial supplies and other items from E & E Sales, resulting in a loss of over half a million dollars to the Skiatook district. Johnson pled guilty last week and has been cooperating with state and federal investigators. Rick Enos of E & E Sales has been arrested and charged with bribery this week. Were any of the Skiatook board members who approved these contracts and purchases with E & E Sales involved in or aware of the bribery scheme at the time? Board president Kenny Cooper resigned a year ago after the grand jury indicted Johnson and recommended Cooper’s removal from office for his part in not providing adequate oversight that would have prevented the waste of district funds. Ongoing investigations should determine the answer to that question and hold any person guilty of criminal conduct accountable. Thanks to Jack Jenkins, a conscientious CPA who performed the annual audit for 2008 for the school district and discovered the huge overpayments, and then tipped off the state auditor to possible fraud, to Skiatook residents who actively worked to get a grand jury investigation based on the findings, to the grand jury itself, and to Tim Harris, the Tulsa County DA, justice is finally being served on behalf of the residents of Skiatook district and the public at large. It is also possible that in addition to criminal penalties assigned, the Skiatook school district will receive financial reparations from those persons who stole from it.
Is it Sisney’s turn to face the consequences of his misconduct?
Could former Broken Arrow superintendent (and now former Sperry superintendent) Jim Sisney also be facing criminal charges for his illegal conduct in the Broken Arrow Public School district and possibly the Sperry Public School district? Based on the findings of the official state audit of the Broken Arrow Public Schools released last month, which disproved his very public allegations of criminal conduct by district employees, board members, and Air Assurance, we now have confirmation that Sisney has:
- attempted to blackmail elected public officials (school board members) for personal gain
- intentionally publicly made false, defamatory statements about individuals and businesses
- intentionally filed lawsuits with false information
- misrepresented information given to law enforcement agencies for investigations
- tampered with the first state audit of BAPS
- filed a copy of the leaked draft of the discarded, discredited first BAPS state audit in early 2011 as proof of his claims in his defamation lawsuit, along with his sworn affadavit, several months after former state auditor Steve Burrage publicly denounced the draft audit documents and the process in preparing them, in early September 2010
The official state audit also revealed that Sisney awarded over $250,000 in salary and travel stipends without board approval over a three-year period to select district employees while repeatedly ignoring other administrators at similar levels, giving the appearance of favoritism. (Audit objective 16, beginning of page 69 of audit)
There are two objectives of the BAPS state audit still withheld from the public (objectives 1 and 3), pending the conclusion of investigations. It is possible that at least one of those objectives may relate to Sisney’s conduct. The three BA board members Sisney sued filed second preliminary witness and exhibit list with the court on March 10, 2011. That list contains the following items that might pertain to objective 3 of the BA audit related to vendor favoritism violations:
- E-mail from Trish Williams to Mark Bilby with a copy to Jim Sisney, dated November 16, 2004, re: gratuities from vendors and “how we do not do business” and reference to Broken Arrow School District policy concerning the prohibition against receiving gifts from vendors
- May 11, 2007, e-mail from Thurman Lee Sisney to Jim Sisney, referencing Final Four and being hosted by Windstream
- Records obtained by subpoena from Windstream Communications concerning Jim Sisney and Thurman Lee Sisney’s free trip provided by Windstream to the Final Four basketball tournament in Windstream’s private suite
The AG-ordered investigative state audit of Sperry Public Schools may be released next month, with field work just having been completed this month, according to Gary Jones, the state auditor. Sisney was superintendent at Sperry from the end of April 2009 until mid-June 2011, when he abruptly retired four days after the BA audit’s release. The audit may contain revelations about Sisney’s conduct while he was superintendent at Sperry.
Will those elected officials and public employees who willingly and knowingly violated their oaths of office and betrayed the public trust while assisting Sisney be held accountable, too?
Sisney conspired with a large number of people working toward his goal of undermining the BA school board majority and painting a false picture of the BA school district. One of the most significant relationships is that of Sisney and former longtime BA board member Stephanie Updike, who was an active participant in that conspiracy and willingly shared confidential information from the school board and district with Sisney and others, both before and after Sisney’s employment was terminated. She was the one who tipped Sisney off in April 2008 that there was some concern by board members about his professional conduct and treatment of others within the district. Sisney had already begun his offensive against Air Assurance and certain District employees; upon learning from Updike’s breach of confidentiality that his contract was in jeopardy, he expanded his PR attack to include the three board members who opposed his attempts to coerce and intimidate. Updike intentionally, repeatedly helped stir up public outcry against the board majority on Sisney’s behalf by making misleading, inflammatory statements in board meetings and to the press. She also visited with the state auditor’s office employees and with state AG staff during the preparation period of the original, now discredited audit of BAPS.
Former BA board president Terry Stover ignored reports in July 2008 by a BA board member that Sisney had threatened another board member and was attempting to blackmail the entire school board and district, dismissing it as ‘hearsay’ instead of taking it seriously and investigating the matter. He also worked to influence the state audit’s outcome. When Burrage decided not to release the first, bogus audit, Stover resigned from the school board in protest.
There may be more violations of the public trust by Updike and Stover that we are not yet aware of. Will Updike be held accountable for her actions? Will Stover be held accountable for his?
What role, if any, did Brian Beagles play in Sisney’s destructive game of subterfuge?
Other than willingly looking the other way, did former BAPS superintendent Brian Beagles knowingly participate in Sisney’s schemes while he was at BAPS or afterward when he followed Sisney to Sperry in May 2009? Beagles worked with Sisney for 14 years, since their Bartlesville days when Beagles was hired by the district in 1997. He and Sisney began working at BAPS in 2000, the same year Dennis Shoemaker became its superintendent. Since then, Beagles has remained a direct subordinate of Sisney’s. Shortly after Sisney became superintendent of BAPS in 2003, he promoted Beagles to assistant superintendent. Beagles was awarded both travel and salary stipends by Sisney each of the three years audited, totalling $38,400 for the three-year period. Beagles remained Sisney’s assistant superintendent at BA until Sisney was fired. After the district hired Sisney at the end of April 2009, Sisney and the school board immediately created the assistant superintendent position and hired Beagles who left BAPS to fill it in May 2009. After Sisney’s departure last month, the Sperry school board immediately signed a three-year contract with his longtime, close associate Beagles to become the district’s new superintendent. For the sake of the Sperry community’s future, it must be determined if Beagles was engaged in illegal and/or unethical conduct as a public school administrator.
Sisney gave confidential BAPS district employee information related to the payment of unused sick pay to longtime employees to Rep. Mike Reynolds in January 2009, a few months after the district fired Sisney in October 2008. These payments were a negotiated contract employee benefit and a practice that had been discontinued many years before. It was also a practice that many other school districts in Oklahoma followed. Reynolds held onto the information and timed his press release on the subject FIVE DAYS BEFORE A SCHOOL BOARD ELECTION in Broken Arrow, singling out the BA district and naming just two employees out of hundreds who had received these payments: then-interim superintendent Gary Gerber who replaced Sisney and one of the candidates running for the school board, Cheryl Kelly. This transparent attempt by a state official and public school administrator to inappropriately influence a school board election needs to be addressed.
Rep. Mike Reynolds‘ numerous activities related to the Sisney/BA controversy and the BA audit, including the leaking of audit documents to the media, should be thoroughly investigated by an independent agency and he should be held accountable for his unethical and illegal behavior.
Employees in the Oklahoma State Auditor’s office who willfully produced and/or supervised the completion of a fictious audit for the BA school district and repeatedly leaked information to Rep. Mike Reynolds, should be held accountable and NOT allowed to remain in state government. Both the auditor Sherri Combs and her direct supervisor for the BA audit, Ricky Branch, are still employees of the OSAI (as confirmed last month). If it hasn’t been done yet, a complete and thorough investigation needs to be conducted by an independent agency to determine if there was intentional criminal conduct by employees in the OSAI during the audit process, in collusion with Rep. Reynolds and perhaps other politically active persons, with the possible intention of influencing the November 2010 election for state auditor. Read Sherri Combs’ sworn deposition of May 11, 2010, here.
Newly elected State Rep. Mike Ritze stepped in to help Sisney by attending and speaking at an August 12, 2008, school board meeting at Sisney’s request, in opposition to the board majority’s intention to hire new legal counsel for the district. (Sisney was limiting access to counsel to only himself and the board president Terry Stover. Because Stover was putting aside his responsibilities to the other board members and the schools district out of his bias in favor of Sisney, protecting him, the three board members needed to hire new counsel that would represent them and the district in addressing the problems that Sisney was creating, including the threats he had issued to board member Maryanne Flippo and the board, and enabling them to do their jobs, including supervising and managing their employee–the superintendent. Sisney didn’t want to lose control of the situation, knowing his employment was in jeopardy, and wanted to do everything he could to prevent hiring the new counsel, including defaming the law firm and the board members and enlisting the help of Updike in doing so, too.) In an email Ritze sent to Sisney the day before the August 12 board meeting, he wrote: “Let’s talk about what to expect before the meeting today or tomorrow?” Sisney’s brother Thurman Lee Sisney had recommended Sisney rely on Ritze, in his August 16, 2008, email to his brother: “I suggest you share everything with Rep. Ritze. He will help you. He has a lot of different ways of helping you. He can do and say things to people you can’t.” According to the initial court filing on Sisney’s defamation lawsuit filed in Tulsa County district court on September 3, 2008, Ritze told Sisney that Dr. J. Douglas Hudkins and Mike Rampey of AA were claiming that Sisney was stealing from the district. Ritze also signed and collected signatures on an ouster petition organized by Broken Arrow businessman John Lare to immediately remove the three board members named in Sisney’s lawsuit as co-conspirators (without any evidence of wrongdoing or determination of guilt through an investigation) and secure a grand jury investigation. Ritze supported Sisney’s favored school board candidate, Trish Henley, in online comments in the 2009 board election. He also attended a meeting at Updike’s house in April 2010 at which Jim Sisney, Chris Tharp, and Beth Snellgrove were also in attendance, to discuss information to be turned into the state auditor’s office related to the BAPS audit. (You can read Beth Snellgrove’s sworn deposition of May 11, 2010, here.) Will authorities fully investigate the extent of Ritze’s involvement in Sisney’s campaign of deceit in BA?
Both Reynolds and Ritze were reluctant to testify in Sisney’s defamation lawsuit, going as far as filing motions to quash the subpoenas they were served on the pretense that they were conducting official investigations into the BA school district (they weren’t). (Sisney was extremely reluctant, too; he had to be forced by a court order to attend his own deposition in the wrongful termination lawsuit he filed in federal court against the district.) Why did both lawmakers have to be forced to attend their depositions to put on the record what they knew related to the Sisney/BAPS controversy?
Read the depositions of Reynolds, Ritze, and Sisney
Their depositions reveal a great deal about each man. You can read Reynolds’ deposition of September 29, 2010, here and Ritze’s deposition of September 29, 2010, here. Sisney’s deposition of December 22, 2009, can be read here.
The people of Broken Arrow and the state of Oklahoma deserve to have these important matters fully addressed.