Shortcomings of the SUSD ‘independent’ investigation

Scottsdale Unified School District recently retained Susan Segal of Gust & Rosenfeld to investigate allegations of impropriety involving SUSD’s contracting for work involving much of the 2016 voter-approved $229 million bond fund. Her subsequent Dec. 19, 2017 report absolved district staff of any significant improprieties.

That outcome was widely expected.

Widely expected because:

  1. Gust & Rosenfeld has had a long-term lucrative relationship with SUSD as its bond counsel it would not want to jeopardize;
  2. Superintendent Birdwell, the individual responsible for any wrongdoing within SUSD, was also responsible for delineating Ms. Segal’s investigation; and
  3. Ms. Segal did not have power to depose witnesses under oath or subpoena testimony/documents.

The primary concern involving SUSD’s contracting with H&C for architectural services in 2016 involves strong evidence of possible substantial fraud/embezzlement involving H&C’s then-president Brian Robichaux, and Superintendent Birdwell. Mr. Robichaux had been convicted of fraud in 1996 for billing/receiving $125,000 for services never produced.

Loyd Eskildson

Evidence now strongly supports concluding that Robichaux, aided by Superintendent Birdwell, repeated that fraud at SUSD via unwritten “contracts” for a master plan review ($180,000) and architectural services involving football field repair ($525,000) without any requirements for or production of hard-copy “deliverables.”

Can you imagine anyone agreeing to pay $180,000 for a verbal assessment of three prior master plans for spending $229 million spread over 18-plus complex projects and taking years to complete?

Plans that had been grossly outdated by recent charter school expansion plans? And, then paying $525,000 for verbal “architectural services” involving football field repairs — services the district had not recently, if ever, utilized? Services that could instead have been provided, if needed, for zero additional cost by an existing A.I.A.-registered architect already employed by SUSD?

Mr. Robichaux is not a registered architect!

Ms. Segal reports Mr. Robichaux did not admit being a felon or an unlicensed architect — thus susd didn’t know. However, emails document that Superintendent Birdwell knew Robichaux as far back as 2008, and subsequently helped him gain business in return for monetary and personal support.

Thus, it is extremely unlikely that Birdwell didn’t know of Robichaux’s “difficulties” and therefore SUSD’s contracting with H&C also was illegal.

What about SUSD’s no-bid hasty contract initiation with H&C and Core Construction to do much or most of the work involving the $229 million bond project with minimal board review? Superintendent Birdwell initiated procurement of Robichaux’s services two weeks after she was hired at SUSD, and nine months prior to voters approving the bond issue!

Legal, per Mr. Segal — but good management?

It does, however, help explain how Birdwell, H&C and Core Construction previously constructed “possibly the (two) most expensive middle schools in Arizona history” at Higley Unified School District.

Summarizing: no-bid contracting, $800,000-plus for architectural services with no hard copy, illegal/hasty contracting with a known felon and little board oversight, an extremely high-cost track record, illegally stonewalling all requests for the public documents involved, and Birdwell’s eliminating SUSD’s internal auditor — “legal,” “incredibly poor management,” or “likely fraud?”

You decide.

Editor’s note: Mr. Eskildson is a resident of the Town of Paradise Valley

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