DES MOINES, IOWA — A former employee of the Des Moines Public School District is accused of improperly spending more than $200,000 in district funds over a six-year period in a report released Wednesday by the Office of the State Auditor.
The alleged improper spending is linked to a former district employee, William Hinrichs, who worked as a Project Facilitator Specialist from August 2008 until his resignation in February 2020 shortly after the district began investigating his spending.
According to the audit report, DMPS administrators received an email in late 2019 informing them that an employee was purchasing tools with school funds and then selling them for personal profit. The district launched an internal investigation which led them to Hinrichs and ‘questionable purchases’ he had made using a vendor’s credit card.
The investigation by the district and subsequently by the Office of the State Auditor found Hinrichs was using a credit card belonging to vendor Ja-Ra Enterprises to make purchases which he then approved for billing to the school district. Ja-Ra is one of numerous general contractors used by the district to perform work including moving/installing furniture, construction cleanup, landscaping, and general maintenance.
Hinrichs reportedly had a much closer relationship with Ja-Ra Enterprises employees than with other vendors and developed a friendship with Ja-Ra workers, including Kevin Kurth. According to the audit report, Hinrichs encouraged Ja-Ra to open a credit card account specifically to use for purchases on school district projects. The company agreed and opened the account. Those cards would be used almost exclusively by Hinrichs and Kurth in following years.
According to the district’s contract with Ja-Ra, the vendor was responsible for supplying all tools needed to complete projects for which they were hired. However, years of credit card receipts show Hinrichs and Kurth made thousands of dollars worth of tool purchases which were then billed to the district. The audit identified numerous instances where purchases did not correspond with the job completed. That includes a November 2016 project for which $1,182 was spent on new tools that were unnecessary for that specific job. In December 2015, Hinrichs spent $1,821 on concrete supplies for a project that only required hanging doors and shelves. On another occasion, the cards were used to purchase two pairs of sunglasses at $50 each at Menards.
In total, the audit report identifies $201,085.70 in improper spending by Hinrichs and Kurth and another $4,219 in unsupported spending. Ja-Ra Enterprises complied fully with the audit. According to the audit report, Ja-Ra representatives say Hinrichs asked the company to falsify receipts to remove tool purchases. The company did not agree to do so.
DMPS placed Hinrichs on paid leave in January 2020. When they tried to schedule additional meetings with Hinrichs to discuss the findings of their investigation, but could not reach him. Hinrichs submitted his resignation on February 10th from the district.
After his resignation, an attorney representing Hinrichs told the district that Hinrichs had materials that belong to the district that he would like to return. That property included 82 tools, including numerous high-priced power tools.
The school district has ended all business with Ja-Ra Enterprises and reviewed all of its contracts and policies for contractors and tool ‘check out’ procedures from the district’s Facility Services department among other changes in response to the investigation, according to a district news release.