Oh Day Aki/Heart of the Earth school


Joel Pourier, the former Executive Director of the Heart of the Earth charter school in Minneapolis, pleaded guilty Wednesday to stealing more than $1 million dollars from the Native American school from 2004-2008, forcing the cash-strapped school to shut down.
Pourier agreed to the guilty pleas on eight felony counts of Theft by Swindle ahead of a trial that was scheduled to begin next Monday in Hennepin County. Pourier did not accept a plea deal and no charges were dropped as result of his admission.
The school hired Pourier in 2002 to be the financial director. In 2003, he became Executive Director.
Pourier moved money from school accounts into accounts controlled by himself or his wife and hid the theft by forging signatures of board members and school administrators. He also made it appear as though the school was paying him for an ongoing cleaning service.
The prosecution has requested a suggested sentence of 114 months in prison which Pourier decided not to contest.
Sentencing will be at the discretion of the judge on August 30th.
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People knew a lot of money was missing from a Minneapolis charter school. But even its principal was stunned by how much.
The former executive director of the Oh Day Aki/Heart of the Earth school, Joel Pourier, appeared in court Monday on charges of embezzling $1.38 million from the school for American Indian children and spending it on houses, cars and nights at strip clubs.
"This is just about as bad as it gets," Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek said at a news conference Monday.
Pourier, 39, of Shakopee, was charged Friday with eight felony counts of theft by swindle. He is being held in the county jail in lieu of $25,000 bail.
His attorney Tom Sieben said Pourier is innocent and plans to plead not guilty.
"It took a long time for them to finally bring forward specific accusations against him, and we look forward to showing why these are not true," Sieben said.
The criminal complaint details an elaborate hoax: From 2003 to 2008, Pourier allegedly forged school officials' signatures on dozens of checks and transferred money to at least six bank accounts under his control.
As the embezzlement persisted, the school "routinely did not have enough money to finance field trips, supplies, computers or textbooks for the students," the complaint says. Eventually, "the defendant's embezzlement and mismanagement finally led to the closing" of the school last summer, when the Minneapolis School District revoked its charter.
"People ask me, 'Why did they close the school?'" said Darlene Leiding, formerly the school's principal. "It was one man who did all this."
Leiding said that after seeing the school's bank records, she knew that Pourier had stolen hundreds of thousands of dollars. But the $1.38 million figure was a shock -- and officials say the amount could still increase. "My goodness," she said. "It was mind-boggling."

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