Fired Shawnee athletic director may face charges
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – The former athletic director of the Academy @ Shawnee has been terminated and may face charges after a Jefferson County Public Schools investigation found he mishandled money at the priority school this school year, his first as head of sports.
An administrative investigation completed March 5 determined that Harry Vinegar cashed checks written to three people who worked Shawnee basketball games, underreported concession sales during a fundraiser by thousands of dollars, could not account for $800 in “startup” money for concessions, didn’t follow protocols to run weekly inventory counts and have a second adult double-check money counts for concessions, didn’t follow policies in renting out Shawnee’s gym and reporting donations, commingled some sales and couldn’t account for 49 missing T-shirts.
What’s more, a district investigator found Vinegar “in clear violation” of a law against abusing a public trust and said in a March 5 memo that he might have committed a class D felony in his misappropriation of athletics funds. The initial investigation estimated that the school’s athletics department lost between $2,000 and $6,000 under Vinegar’s watch.
JCPS Communications Director Allison Martin said the district is conducting an ongoing criminal investigation and JCPS “will be referring the case to prosecutors” once the inquiry is complete.
Vinegar could not be reached for comment.
Records obtained by WDRB News show Vinegar was fired May 24. He did not appeal the decision to the Kentucky Department of Education, which would have set up a three-person tribunal to review his termination, spokeswoman Nancy Rodriguez said.
Karin Bennett, president of Shawnee’s parent teacher association, questioned whether other sports and clubs at Shawnee, which volunteered to work concessions for a percentage of profits, were affected by Vinegar’s alleged mismanagement of money. She said the coaches and club advisers she’s spoken with hadn’t received any money for their work.
“It goes back to the kids,” Bennett said in an interview Friday.
“Because he had to be taken off campus, another interim AD got taken out of the classroom, so that classroom had subs the whole year. Then you’re looking at, I don’t know how much money is questioned, but that certainly could have helped any of the sports teams go to additional tournaments or pay fees or get extra coaches or just do something else for the kids, so it’s just one more time that the kids are at the short end of the stick.”
Bennett had previously told WDRB News that Vinegar had picked up a freezer she donated for Shawnee's concessions last year and returned it to school officials “completely damaged” once questions were raised about his management of athletics funds.
Investigators quizzed Vinegar about the freezer during the administrative inquiry, and he said he did not give Bennett a donation letter for her taxes as she requested.
“Mr. Vinegar stated he did not give the PTA president a donation letter because he didn’t know this was policy,” JCPS investigator Mike Mulhall wrote in his report. “This is in direct violation of JCPS policy and KDE Redbook that states a Donation Acceptance Form … must be filled out when anything is donated.”
That’s not the only donation Vinegar failed to properly report, according to the investigation. Trena Waddles, president of Love, Peace & Heritage Festival, wanted Shawnee to host step and dance teams for a fundraiser.
During an interview with investigators, Waddles said she gave Vinegar a $400 donation for the school’s athletics fund but, like Bennett, did not receive a donation letter for her taxes. The money was supposed to be used for a coffee maker for the school’s concession stand.
“After a while, Mrs. Waddles asked Mr. Vinegar to at least let her to see the coffee pot or take a picture of it so she could prove she donated it to the school,” Mulhall wrote. “Mr. Vinegar agreed and showed Mrs. Waddles the coffee machine. Mrs. Waddles described the coffee machine as one you could buy at Walmart, and that it did not cost anywhere near $400. Mrs. Waddles stated she did not feel Mr. Vinegar purchased the coffee machine with her money.”
Vinegar disputed the amount of the donation in his interview, saying he and Waddles had agreed to meet at Sam’s Club to spend no more than $300 on a coffee machine and supplies. Vinegar said he wound up buying the coffeemaker and supplies on his own and that Waddles paid him $300 in cash on the day of the event.
Mulhall also questioned Vinegar on what happened with Waddles’s donation. Vinegar originally said he deposited it in Shawnee’s athletic fund through the bookkeeper, but when told that such a deposit wasn’t reflected in the school’s records, he said he used the money to buy the coffeemaker and supplies.
The Nov. 4 event itself also raised concerns.
Waddles requested a contract and building usage form from Vinegar, but she never received them. She found a JCPS building usage form from her records, filled it out and sent it along with proof of insurance to Vinegar, according to the investigation.
Waddles said she sold 1,572 tickets to the event, and her organization made $8,500 after expenses and donations to participating teams. She expected Vinegar, who was running concessions, to “make bank” since the stand was busy with customers.
Vinegar, in his statement to investigators, said he only sold $135 in concessions per hour during the three-hour event, totaling $405. That means each person who attended the step fundraiser spent about a quarter, on average, on concessions, according to the investigation.
Vinegar combined concessions sold during the step competition and a prior elementary school basketball game, which Mulhall said is another policy violation, and reported selling $748 in all.
But Mulhall said he contacted two athletic directors at other JCPS schools, who said their sales averaged about $4.50 per ticket sold, and examined past sales records at Shawnee. For instance, a football game between Shawnee and Atherton drew 170 attendees and $701 in concession sales for an average of $4.12 per ticket sold.
The investigator found that using the $4.50 average, Vinegar would have sold $6,750 in concessions to the 1,500 in attendance during the Nov. 4 event.
That wasn’t the only time investigators questioned his handling of finances. Mulhall found that three people who were paid for working athletic events made their checks payable to Vinegar, totaling $550 since Nov. 14, according to his report.
One such worker – Lamont Smith, Vinegar’s longtime friend – signed over $250 of his checks to Vinegar for cash, records show. Smith said Vinegar paid him from a green moneybag that held concession stand money.
One night, Smith said Vinegar only gave him $50 and promised to pay the balance but never followed through, according to the report.
Vinegar disputed owing Smith money, providing text messages and a recorded phone conversation as proof. He also said he never paid anyone from concession funds, instead using money from his own pocket to cash the checks.
But Mulhall wrote that still constituted a violation.
“Mr. Vinegar stated he did not see anything wrong with this because he was using his own money,” the investigator wrote. “However, Mr. Vinegar was working for JCPS at the time he cashed the checks, and he was on JCPS property. Because he was acting as an agent of JCPS, and was on JCPS time, this would be a violation” of KDE Redbook policies.
Vinegar also received $800 in startup money at the beginning of football season to run the concession stand, but Mulhall could not find any weekly inventory counts as required and could not verify how that money was used.
When Shawnee officials asked Vinegar to return the $800 once he was reassigned in January, Vinegar declined because he felt uncomfortable counting out that amount in small bills with the interim principal standing over his shoulder. Vinegar later submitted an $800 check as reimbursement.
Vinegar also purchased 150 T-shirts to sell at registration for the 2017-18 school year, combining those sales with concessions. Mulhall said Vinegar violated policies requiring separate sales reporting and weekly inventory counts, and he also found that 49 of the shirts, which were sold for $10 apiece, were missing.
With an ongoing criminal investigation into Vinegar’s alleged mismanagement of school money, Bennett said she supports prosecuting Shawnee’s former athletic director if the inquiry’s findings warrant a case.
“If you did the crime, I guess you need to do the time,” the Shawnee PTA president said.
Despite the accusations against Vinegar, Bennett believes the school will emerge with stronger fiscal practices.
“Shawnee is a very resilient school,” Bennett said. “It will bounce back. We have a new principal. We’ve got new PTA members, board members. We’ve got new fundraisers. We’ve got new stuff, so yes, we will come back.”
Reach reporter Kevin Wheatley at 502-585-0838 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @KevinWheatleyKY.
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