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Police investigate former Bemidji State plant manager's buying of personal items on university credit card

BEMIDJI, Minn.—Authorities confiscated a lawn tractor, snowblower and a king-sized bed, as well as other lawn and home items from a former longtime Bemidji State University employee's house last week as they investigate whether he spent tens of thousands of public dollars for personal use.

Police searched former BSU Physical Plant Manager Jeff Sande's Bemidji home Thursday after university staff reported theft by an employee in October, according to a search warrant made public Monday. An internal audit found Sande made many "questionable" credit card purchases dating back to 2010, Bemidji Police Detective Michelle Leffelman said in the search warrant affidavit.

"Sande indicated that he had used the 'wrong card' on these purchases," Leffelman wrote in the affidavit, which was signed by a Beltrami County District Court judge on Aug. 8. "The total amount to which Sande has admitted were made on the 'wrong card' came to $36,283.27...The investigation continued and Sande's questionable transactions increased to $83,368.35. Sande's total theft was $50,431.27 after reviewing transactions from 2010-2017 on his business credit card."

Leffelman said the auditor met with Sande on Oct. 13, 2016. University staff reported the alleged theft to the Bemidji Police Department on Oct. 28—the same day Sande's employment at BSU ended.

When contacted, Sande said he did not want to talk about his old job or the police search.

"Nothing's settled," he said.

University staff said Sande is retired from the school and that no separation agreements exist between the two. There was an internal complaint against Sande, staff said. But that complaint is closed and resulted in no apparent formal discipline, which means little, if any, information about it is open to the public.

The university hired Sande in June 1970, and he earned a $92,000 annual salary at the time his employment ended. He was recognized for his decades of service at an "emeriti, retirees, and milestone" breakfast in spring 2016.

The Beltrami County Attorney's Office had not charged Sande as of Tuesday and the investigation was still open on Monday.

Questionable purchases

The warrant accuses Sande of fraudulently purchasing a John Deere X300 42-inch lawn tractor, which police recovered from his home last week. The serial number listed in the warrant is at least a partial match to that of a lawn tractor sold in spring 2013 to Bemidji State University from a now-closed dealer in Walker, Minn., according to a warranty report provided to the Pioneer.

Police also recovered the following from Sande's home, according to the search warrant receipt:

• A Honda 21-inch Smart Drive mower

• A Toro 27-inch snowblower and cover

• A Stihl leafblower, a chainsaw and weed trimmer

• A 10-foot-by-10-foot "shed in a box"

• An Excalibur king-sized bed and bed frame

• A Welderman flux core welder

• An Arctic Extremes Carhartt coat

• An Igloo rolling cooler

• A Ryobi mini vacuum, two chargers, two batteries, and a mini inflator

• A Gorilla three-step aluminum ladder

• A Performax pneumatic rolling stool

• A Delta stainless faucet

• A Magick Woods sink

• Rubbermaid "commercial products"

• A Sony Vaio laptop, which was not included in the list of allegedly ill-gotten items.

Only the items listed above were confiscated, per the receipt, but the search warrant authorized police to look for a total of 104 items Leffelman characterized as "fraudulent" transactions in her affidavit: big-ticket purchases such as Polaris Ranger utility task vehicle and a 300-gallon septic tank; smaller electronics such as a printer and a camera; and a scarecrow.

University officials were unavailable for comment Tuesday.

Joe Bowen

Joe Bowen covers education and health for the Bemidji Pioneer.

He is a Minneapolis native and a 2009 graduate of St. John's University. Before moving to Bemidji, Bowen covered education, local politics, crime, and everything in between for the Perham Focus in Perham, Minnesota, and Sun Newspapers in suburban Minneapolis.

(218) 333-9798
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