The targets of investigations ordered by administrators of Toledo Public Schools reacted to the news with dismay Sunday and several said they suspected that Daniel Burns, the man accused in a state audit of carrying out the probes, got his marching orders from then-Superintendent Eugene Sanders.
James King, an insurance consultant who was hired by the Toledo Federation of Teachers union, suspected his association with the union was the reason for the interest in him.
“If they were investigating relationships between the union and myself, I'm at a loss. I'm mystified,” Mr. King said. He said it sounded like “union-busting.”
“I think Gene was behind this. The CEO sets the moral tenor for every company and underlings do not investigate or enter into this level of activity without the knowledge of the boss,” Mr. King said.
‘‘I think they have the right to look into individuals who work directly for them, but civilians, people in the capacity I work in they have absolutely no business investigating. It's immoral,” Mr. King said.
Mr. King was one of several dozen people, mostly TPS employees, who were subjected to investigations at the request of Mr. Burns, a former district business manager who has been accused of stealing $660,000 from the district through phony equipment and consulting purchases.
Mr. King recalled that Mr. Sanders acted displeased when he showed up at the superintendent's office in 2004 with the teachers' union president, Francine Lawrence, to negotiate health contracts. Previously, Mr. King had been the school district's longtime consultant but he lost the contract several years earlier.
According to an invoice, Corporate Intelligence Consultants of Perrysburg was told to “investigate relationships” in connection with Mr. King's firm, Hyhealth. CIC's reports were not included in the documents, only its billing records.
A retired and now-emeritus University of Toledo professor, Mr. King said he got a heads-up call about his name turning up in the state audit from John Foley, the current superintendent, last week.
The auditor also found fault with some of the investigations Mr. Burns ordered through Corporate Intelligence Consultants. Some of the extent of those investigations was revealed in 2,165 pages of working documents used by state Auditor Mary Taylor's office in an audit of Mr. Burns's activities at Toledo Public Schools from 2001 to 2008 and obtained by The Blade.
An affidavit included in the documents signed by CIC owner Steven R. Cotner said Mr. Sanders was the source of a tip that one of the newly elected school board members had a criminal record that might preclude service on the panel.
Mr. Sanders did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Mr. Sanders previously has said publicly that he was unaware of Mr. Burns' alleged illegal activities.
The audit said the district paid Corporate Intelligence Consultants $202,273 during the period covered by the audit, from 2001 to 2008. It singled out as improper only the $1,571 spent to investigate the two citizens and the three school board members, and did not accuse Corporate Intelligence Consultants of any wrongdoing.
Mr. Foley issued a prepared statement that his administration is cooperating fully with the prosecutors and state officials.
“The background checks that were conducted on non-TPS employees were performed prior to my term as superintendent. Such investigations were clearly an inappropriate use of district funds. As the special audit report states, no such investigations of non-TPS employees have been conducted since I became superintendent,” he said.
Mrs. Lawrence said the wrongdoing of the top administrators reflects unfairly on the employees and could undermine the district in the eyes of the public.
“From what's been revealed about Dan Burns, they should have reflected on their own behavior instead of casting nets and ordering investigations,” Mrs. Lawrence said.
“During that entire time period his boss was Gene Sanders. It's hard to believe Gene Sanders wasn't aware of what Dan Burns was directing,” Mrs. Lawrence said.
“Only mean, small-minded people would order investigations of the newly elected board of education,” she said. “To me it's evidence they didn't like who was elected and they wanted to find some information about them that would discredit them or cause their removal from public office.”
Citizen activist Steven Flagg, who was the subject of an investigation, said he was not surprised to learn that Mr. Sanders was identified as the source of an inquiry into three newly elected school board members who had not yet taken office.
“Gene Sanders was a very controlling personality. I do not believe this would have happened on his shift without him creating the atmosphere for it to occur,” Mr. Flagg said.
He last week released his own report which showed no criminal background.
Mr. Flagg said if Mr. Sanders had a suspicion that a board member had a felony record that would prevent them from taking his or her seat on the school board, he should have referred the information to the Lucas County Prosecutor's Office.
Of the three school board members who were elected in 2005 and investigated by Corporate Intelligence Consultants of Perrysburg, only Steven Steel could be reached yesterday.
He declined comment other than to say that the district should follow the state auditor's recommendations to avoid a repeat occurrence.
“What's most important is to implement the recommendations from the state auditor to make sure there are good checks and balances and to make sure things aren't done for nefarious reasons in the future,” Mr. Steel said.
Former school board member Darlene Fisher, who lost her re-election effort in November, last week released her criminal record which showed no entries. She said she was outraged at the investigations.
Robert Torres, the third board member elected in 2005 who is now development director for the city of Canton, Ohio, has not been reached for comment.
A teacher who was put under surveillance for a planned trip to Italy was stunned yesterday to learn of the district's attempt to trip her up.
Ruth Ann O'Loughlin, who retired three years ago after 35 years of employment with the district, said she and a friend who was the dean at Waite High School planned to use a sick day and a personal day to take a trip to Italy Jan. 13-18, 2005.
The trip was canceled because her friend, Lorraine Logsdon-Geiger, fell and had a concussion.
She said both of them had recent tragedies — for her, the loss of a husband and for Mrs. Logsdon-Geiger the loss of her only son, Adam Logsdon, in a motorcycle accident in Vietnam.
“That is unbelievable,” Mrs. O'Loughlin said. “We were going to take a personal day. We were going to take one sick day.”
Ms. O'Loughlin said the administration learned of their trip after personal mail that was delivered to the school was opened by an administrator.
The investigators were told to document the two women's departure at the airport, do “daily activity checks @ their residences to prove they're gone” and then “collect their trash as soon as they return.”
The investigator reported, however, that they never left. The cost to Toledo school district taxpayers — $994.
Toledo School Board member Larry Sykes said he has received little information about the audit, but expects to learn more at a meeting set for Tuesday.
“I don't know what those investigations are for. They're from [the department of] Human Resources. I assume they're there for a reason,” Mr. Sykes said.
He said he was concerned that the release of the audits coincides with the start of Mrs. Taylor's campaign for lieutenant governor as the running mate of Republican gubernatorial candidate John Kasich. Mr. Sykes is a Democrat.
He also questioned why the discrepancies in Mr. Burns's purchasing were not previously detected by representatives of the state auditor who spend months every year producing annual audits on the district.
“I will wait until Tuesday and get it from the auditor's mouth because everything else is just allegations and appearance,” he said.
Mrs. Taylor has said that Mr. Burns' activities went unnoticed in Toledo for so long because the district lacked checks and balances and Mr. Burns was able to order equipment, pay for it, and claim he received it without anyone else getting involved.
Steve Faulkner, a spokesman for the auditor's office, pointed out it was Mrs. Taylor who found the abuse of public school funds and brought the information to the public.
“She's doing the job that she was elected to do,” Mr. Faulkner said.
Most of the investigations conducted through Corporate Intelligence Consultants were to substantiate suspicions about employees who were abusing sick time or not going to their jobs on time, but not all:
w One invoice requested surveillance of a teacher who was accused of being a “crackhead.”
w Another invoice ordered surveillance at DeVilbiss, a former high school that was being used as a conference center, and requested videotape of “employees leaving after a meeting.”
On two occasions, Mr. Burns ordered up investigations by CIC into what he said were reports of inventory disappearing from the warehouse:
An invoice dated Dec. 8, 2005, said, “employees have reported that items [laptops, digital cameras] being delivered from warehouse to schools, are not arriving, some boxes arriving empty. There are two delivery trucks and 4 employees.”
An investigation opened April 23, 2006, targeted a truck driver who had become a suspect and whose truck had been seen at his home.
The reports do not indicate what the investigation found.
Like almost all the investigations covered in the auditor's reports there was no indication of what any of those probes turned up.
The audit of Mr. Burns's activities in Toledo began after auditors turned up alleged thefts totaling $160,000 from the Cleveland Metropolitan School District where Mr. Burns was the chief operating officer beginning in 2006.
Mr. Burns has pleaded not guilty to racketeering, theft in office, and six counts of tampering with records in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court.
An audit on Mr. Burns's tenure in Toledo Public Schools turned up the alleged theft of $660,000 through fraudulent equipment purchases and consultations.
Mr. Burns was an assistant to the business manager from July, 2001, until he was named acting business manager in January, 2002.
He was chief business manager from 2003 to 2006.
The Blade's review of the auditor's working documents also shows Mr. Foley's signature on the check to pay for the investigation into the backgrounds of Mr. Flagg and Francis Dumbaya, a frequent critic of the district.
In his statement Sunday Mr. Foley said that the signature was applied to the check mechanically.
“Checks issued to the district's vendors are often signed with an automated procedure. This was the case in 2006 when my signature was reproduced on a check issued as payment for investigative services initiated by a former administrator. I was out of the country on a personal vacation on the date that check was issued,” Mr. Foley said.
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