Prosecutor won’t pursue criminal charges against former charter school director

BLACKFOOT — Bingham County prosecutor Paul Rogers will not charge retired charter school director Fred Ball with any crimes after a year-long investigation into bizarre financial practices at two of Ball’s former schools.

Idaho State Police uncovered a range of “fishy,” “weird” and “very questionable” activity at both Bingham Academy and Blackfoot Charter Community Learning Center, Rogers told EdNews regarding a now-completed investigation into the schools’ finances by the Idaho State Police.

Fred Ball

Yet by Rogers’ measure, those findings aren’t enough to bring criminal charges against Ball or other current or former leaders at the schools.

“Some findings are really in question,” Rogers said, “but nothing rose red flags for criminal influence.”

An ISP investigation report obtained by EdNews reveals some of those findings, including what “appear to be personal items purchased through the Bingham County Charter School account.” Here’s a look at some purchases and who made them:

  • Ashley Guardipee purchased a women’s “sexy off shoulder autumn winder bandage bodycan party dress” for $66.62 on Dec. 18, 2018.
  • Irwin and Suzie Fisk purchased a “sterling silver and swiss blue natural topaz gemstone pendant necklace” on Dec. 25, 2017 for $63.39.
  • Guardipee also purchased a Whirlpool silverware basket for $38.69 on Aug. 2, 2017.
  • Elizabeth Reistein  purchased Saucony running shoes for $66.62 on March 14, 2019.

These items were delivered to addresses different from that of the school, the investigator wrote, adding that the “list continued with dresses, jewelry, baby clothing, dietary supplements, light bars, toys, beauty products, and electronic gift cards all being purchased and sent to either the school or personal addresses.”

Rather than filing charges, Rogers said he was considering ways to “inform the public” of issues uncovered at the schools during the investigation, from what he described as a lack of financial record keeping to wide-ranging use of school credit cards. Meeting with the school’s trustees to discuss these matters is also a possibility, Rogers said.

The schools’ attorney, Nathan Olsen, did not immediately respond to EdNews about the findings and Rogers’ decision not to pursue criminal charges.

The investigation report also outlined Ball’s refusal to speak with investigators, instead asserting through his attorney his right to remain silent.

Ball retired from the schools in June of 2019.

Purchases detailed in the report coincide with other odd transactions and activities at the school. Authorities began investigating finances at Bingham and Blackfoot over a year ago, after Idaho Public Charter School Commission chairman Alan Reed told Rogers that Ball might have violated Idaho’s bribery and corrupt influence laws and other state codes.

Reed’s letter followed a forensic audit, requested by the commission, focusing on transactions involving modular classrooms at the schools. Idaho Education News first wroteabout these transactions in January of 2019.

  • Ball received a $16,000 reimbursement from Blackfoot in 2017. In December 2018, Ball told EdNews that he personally purchased two modulars from Salt Lake Community College, and resold them for the “spectacularly low price” of $16,000 or “what he had into them.” Documentation for the $16,000 transaction was “incomplete,” Reed wrote in his letter to Rogers.
  • Salt Lake Community College officials told EdNews that the college has no record of a purchase with Ball. Instead, documents show that the college sold at least one modular directly to Bingham Academy in December 2013, for $2,000.
  • Bingham Academy wrote a $12,000 check to “Somewhere in the Middle,” a former band of which Ball’s son was a member. The forensic audit of both schools revealed that Bingham paid the band to transport modulars sometime in 2014. “The school has not been able to produce documentation supporting this transaction,” Reed wrote.

Rogers reiterated his view that the investigation warranted no need for criminal charges, but he pointed to investigators’ periodic “frustrations” with “dead-end issues” and difficulties getting people to answer questions during the investigation.

The ISP investigator wrote that her findings suggest that Ball, the school’s former business manager, Randy Ruger, and “other paid positions of the two listed schools have broken the Code of Ethics provided by the Idaho Professional Standards Commission — failure to account for school funds.”

Dan Cravens, a trustee at both Bingham and Blackfoot, told EdNews Tuesday that Rogers had relayed “some concerns over past practices” at the school but that Rogers told him he had no plans to address matters related to the investigation with school board members.

Devin Bodkin

Devin Bodkin

EdNews assistant editor and reporter Devin Bodkin is a former high school English teacher who specializes in stories about charter schools and educating students who live in poverty. He lives and works in East Idaho. Follow Devin on Twitter @dsbodkin. He can be reached by email at [email protected].

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