(KTXL) — The Stockton Unified School District is under criminal investigation over how it purchased COVID-19 sanitation equipment in 2021, according to the San Joaquin County District Attorney.

“Any attempt to steal off the back of our school children will not be tolerated,” DA Ron Freitas said. “Following the results of the FCMAT result from the state auditors, I launched an investigation into any and all wrongdoing.”

The investigation began when employees of the district reported “procurement irregularities in a contract” to the San Joaquin County Office of Education. 

The procurement process began on March 1, 2021; the concerns were brought to the county office in May of 2021 and again in August of the same year.

According to the report, the contract in question was with IAQ Distribution, Inc., a distributor of indoor air quality monitoring and disinfection devices and a subsidiary of Alliance Companies.

Due to the reports and the “unusual award process,” an audit was conducted by the Fiscal Crisis Management and Assistance Team at the request of the county office. 

The FCMAT can be requested when there is a fiscal crisis or help with management is needed. It’s largely a state-funded effort to make sure schools are following financial and ethical rules.

According to that report, auditors found evidence of ”fraud, misappropriation of funds and/or assets, or other illegal fiscal practices” surrounding a contract for UV purification units. 

Auditors claim “the district and board ignored their own policies, procedures and past practice in order to award the contract to their preferred vendor.”

The report also details concerns about the vendor even being considered in the first place. According to the report, Alliance Companies made a presentation to the board beforehand.

“… A special presentation by Alliance took place at a private holiday party before the presentation at the January 12, 2021 board meeting, and that multiple board members attended the party,” the report states. 

John Ramirez, Jr, the interim superintendent at the time, was made aware of the concern by Chief Business Official Susanne Montoya. But the FCMAT report states Ramirez’s reply to the concern was “hostile and threatening.”

“What you are missing is

There is no conflict of interest with a process

The conflict that exists now is that staff defied a directive from the interim Superintendent that asked for an RFP

Please do some due diligence on conflicts regarding an RFP that hasn’t been awarded

Let me know when you would like to sit with [attorney] Jack [Lipton]and I to discuss your concerns. I can share my concerns regarding the full scope of the CBO position as well,” Ramirez replied, according to the report.

Montoya later resigned because of how the procurement process was being conducted, the report says.

According to the audit, the district had a “poor ethical tone set by management and the board.” 

“The employees interviewed widely perceived the ethical conduct of the district’s board, former superintendent and executive management as questionable, compromising the organization’s moral tone,” the audit states. 

The district in recent years has been plagued by grand jury reports alleging financial mismanagement, conflicts of interest, inadequate training, and leadership dysfunction. 

One grand jury report in 2021 described board meetings as “watching your parents fighting in public.”

This most recent report called on the county office of education to notify the district attorney’s office and school district of the findings.

Interim Stockton Unified School District superintendent Traci Miller says she was caught off guard by the district attorney’s office investigation announcement. 

Miller is the district’s 15th superintendent since 2005.

“If there are issues inside this organization that need to be dealt with, if there are adults in this organization that are doing something on the backs of our children we need to deal with that,” Interim Superintendent Dr. Traci Miller said. 

It’s unclear how long the investigation is expected to take, and whether or not it could target specific individuals within the school district when it comes to specific criminal penalties.