Former Rockford Superintendent of Schools Paul Durand on Sept. 4 was charged in Wright County District Court with 11 felony counts of embezzling public funds and three felony counts of theft by swindle.
According to the complaint, Durand, 63, served as superintendent from 2010 to 2019. He is alleged to have used school district funds illegally for his personal benefit during this time. The alleged fraudulent behavior came to the attention of school district officials in 2019 during a required annual audit of school district funds by district auditor Clifton Larson Allen.
As a result of these findings, the Rockford School Board placed Durand on administrative leave on Oct. 16, 2019, according to the complaint. The district and Durand signed a separation agreement on Nov. 18, 2019.
Wright County Sheriff’s Detective Findell was assigned to investigate a fraud report involving Durand on Dec. 5, 2019. He received a spreadsheet documenting the defendant’s purchase history with his district-issued credit card. An analysis of the spreadsheet revealed that the defendant had purchased 192 items that did not appear to be business related between July 7, 2010 and Sept. 11, 2019. The total amount of these purchases amounted to $42,651, according to the complaint.
The 18 felony counts detail purchases made in 2018 and 2019 that appeared to be personal in nature and did not have a district purpose. The purchases included new laptop computers roughly every 18 months. The complaint says this is noteworthy because the district already had provided Durand with a laptop computer. Under the normal procurement process, the district information technology staff purchases equipment. Durand claimed that he had a technology budget.
Other purchases with the district credit card included an EERO home Wi-Fi system, a Blink four-pack of wire free cameras, a Bluetooth audio receiver transmitter, smart wireless body scale/analyzer, underwater camera with accessories, Amazon Echo Show, two Apple watches, Fitbit Alta HR and Fitbit Alta Fitness Wristband.
In 2018 and 2019 Durand paid $3,829 for fuel using the district credit card. “Given that the defendant received a $650/month stipend for vehicle usage from the District, it is believed that the fuel purchases were expressly prohibited by law,” the complaint said.
Each of the 14 felony counts carries a maximum sentence of five years, $10,000 or both.
Attorney Paul Wold, who represents Durand, was asked to comment on the case. Wold had not responded by press time.
The Rockford School Board and superintendent’s office released the following statement on Sept. 10:
“On, Sept. 8, 2020, the Wright County Attorney announced that former Rockford Area Schools Superintendent Paul Durand was charged with three felony counts of theft by swindle and eleven felony counts of embezzlement. The allegations surrounding the former Superintendent are concerning. In November 2019, the Rockford Area Schools Board of Education entered into a separation agreement with Mr. Durand, which ended Mr. Durand’s contractual relationship as our Superintendent of Schools.
“Questionable expenditures by Mr. Durand were brought to the School Board’s attention as a result of the annual audit process, commissioned by the School Board, and completed by a third party (external) auditing firm. This audit is completed on an annual basis and represents a critical element of the Board’s oversight process. The School Board subsequently notified the Minnesota State Auditor and the Wright County Attorney of the expenditures in question.
The School District appreciates the efforts by the Wright County Attorney’s office and law enforcement personnel who have investigated the allegations. As the case progresses, we are committed to cooperating with law enforcement authorities.
“We want to assure the Rockford Area community that the School Board and our District is committed to leading with integrity, transparency and a high standard of ethics focused on the success of each of our students. While this represents a challenging situation, we are hopeful that yesterday’s developments represent another step forward in healing and a continued path forward for our entire staff and community.
With that being said, yesterday, Sept. 8, 2020, was also the first day of school delivered in a complex and unprecedented environment. Our focus is on the nearly 1,700 children we have the privilege to support as they pursue their education in Rockford Area Schools. Our commitment toward those efforts is unwavering.”