Former SPU manager John Crooks cleared of criminal wrongdoing in county attorney letter

The Scott County Attorney’s Office recently declined to press criminal charges against former Shakopee Public Utilities Manager John Crooks for taking a salary that violated state statute, according to a letter written by County Attorney Ron Hocevar.

John Crooks
Former Shakopee Public Utilities Manager John Crooks

Hocevar explains in the letter, dated Oct. 21 and obtained by the Shakopean on Thursday, that the only viable charge would be theft by swindle, but the state lacks the evidence necessary “to prove that Mr. Crooks intended to defraud the (commission) when he would ask for a raise and either hide his calculation or state that the salary and his calculation are within the statute’s provisions.”

Crooks resigned from his role at Shakopee Public Utilities in September after a third-party investigation revealed Crooks made more than $39,000 over the state-mandated local government salary cap from 2017 through 2019, and he was aware of potential salary cap discrepancies starting in 2017.

As part of his separation agreement, Crooks must repay the salary overages before the end of this year.

The salary cap is set by the Minnesota Legislature to be equal to 110 percent of the governor’s salary. For the year 2020, the cap is $178,782Public records show the Shakopee Public Utilities Commission approved a base pay of $200,000 for 2020. Crooks’ total compensation was on track to exceed $207,000 by the end of the year.

Crooks’s error in calculating his salary for the purpose of the statute was to exclude the value of his sick leave and vacation time. Per the statute, the value of paid time off cannot be subtracted from a person’s base salary to meet the cap requirements.

“A more fundamental issue also arises in proving that Mr. Crooks’s actions were a swindle,” Hocevar wrote. “It cannot be ignored is that (sic) Mr. Crooks’s salary was ultimately determined and approved by the board of commissioners. The only argument here is that he deceived the board at the meetings where his salary was discussed.”

Hocevar said one of the commissioners conceded in an interview during the police investigation that they should have questioned Crooks and his salary calculations further.

“While they relied on information presented by Mr. Crooks, nothing prevented them from determining the governor’s salary and what the allowable salary cap would be,” Hocevar wrote. “Any capable defense attorney will be able to argue that Mr. Crooks simply presented the law as he understood it and left the ultimate decision up to the commission to determine his salary.”

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