A.L. city manager faces spending-abuse charges

Published 2:19 pm Friday, August 27, 2010

Jim Norman says ‘I don’t agree’; police say debt is the cause

New Albert Lea City Manager Jim Norman faces felony charges for alleged abuse of the city credit card for more than $2,300 in purchases for items such as a side-by-side refrigerator, groceries, women’s shoes and hotels.

By way of summons, the Waseca County Attorney’s Office, which is handling the case for Freeborn County, charged the 56-year-old city manager on Thursday with two felonies and one gross misdemeanor.

Jim Norman

Norman’s charges include:

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One felony count of permitting false claims against government by a public officer.

One felony count of theft with the intent to exercise temporary control.

One gross misdemeanor count of misconduct by a public officer.

He is scheduled to appear in court on the charges at 11 a.m. Sept. 22.

Norman, who began full time as city manager in Albert Lea in May, said he just began looking over the criminal complaint Friday afternoon.

“Obviously I don’t agree with many of the items in the investigation,” he said. “It’s in my best interest to get an attorney.”

The Albert Lea Police Department asked the Waseca Police Department to investigate possible misuse of funds.

The investigation states the total charges from May 3 — his first full-time day — through July 15 amounted to $2,741.88. It states only $353.62 were legitimate expenses the city is required to pay.

According to his employment contract — cited in court documents — the city agreed to reimburse Norman up to $5,000 for costs incurred by moving his family from St. Paul to Albert Lea. He had been the interim city manager in Afton. Moving expenses included packing, moving, storage costs, unpacking, insurance costs, lodging and meals for his family en route from St. Paul to Albert Lea, along with mileage costs for moving two personal cars from St. Paul to Albert Lea.

The city paid $3,325 directly to Peipho Moving for moving expenses and $12 to allow the moving truck to be parked on the city street during the move, documents state.

The contract also required the city to pay Norman $500 per month, for two months or until he established a permanent home. He also receives $500 per month to be used to purchase, lease, operate and maintain a vehicle.

Court documents state the city never agreed to pay for Norman’s gasoline costs or other costs of living, such as food. The city also never authorized Norman to charge his housing costs on the city credit card as they were required to compensate him $500 per month, which they did on his payroll check.

Norman reportedly charged $30 to LDPOST.com, which is an Internet company that sells phone cards and prepaid calling cards.

Ten transactions were allegedly made to gasoline and convenience store purchases, for a total of about $268 and four purchases were made at grocery stores for a total of about $131.

A new side-by-side refrigerator was purchased at Home Depot for $973; three transactions were made at restaurants for about $132; four transactions were made at department stores, including Walmart, Shopko and Herberger’s, for a total of about $119. The receipts included women’s hygiene products from Shopko and a pair of women’s shoes at Herberger’s.

Four transactions were made at motels, for a total of about $712, and $65 was charged for garbage disposal services at Norman’s new home.

Court documents allege that Norman told the Albert Lea finance director that he used the city credit card because he was attempting to clear up his own personal debt through federal stimulus legislation that negotiates credit card debt.

According to court records, a Waseca detective met with City Finance Director Rhonda Moen on July 27 to discuss the matter. Moen told the detective that Norman had begun working for the city part time in April and full time on May 3. She said all city department heads are issued city credit cards, in the names of the city and the employee, for work-related purchases only.

She explained that department heads are given a user’s agreement to review and sign. Norman reportedly completed the agreement and was given his card May 3.

The first paragraph of that agreement states, “The U.S. Bank One Card represents the city’s trust in you. You are empowered as a responsible agent to safeguard city assets. Your signature below is verification that you have read the employee training manual and agree to comply with it as well as the following responsibilities.”

The first responsibility was listed as stating, “I understand the card is for company-approved purchases only, and I agree not to charge personal purchases.”

The second responsibility states, “Improper use of this card can be considered misappropriation of city funds.”

The sixth responsibility states, “All charges will be billed directly to and paid by the city. The bank cannot accept any monies from me directly; therefore, any personal charges bill (sic) to the city should be considered misappropriation of funds.”

The 10th responsibility adds, “I understand that all charges must be supported by detailed receipts. Any charges that I cannot provide substantiation for will be my responsibility.”

According to court records, when Moen discussed the credit card with Norman, she stressed she was a “real stickler” for receipts and informed him that the city credit card had the city logo on it, so he would be able to distinguish it from any other personal credit cards he may have.

Moen told investigators that during the third week of June, all department heads received a copy of their city credit card purchases before she received final credit card statements.

On June 29, Norman reportedly submitted a personal check to the city for $2,162.55 as “reimbursement for personal expenditures.”

Moen tried to speak with Norman about the use of the credit card, but he was unavailable. So she spoke with Norman’s assistant and asked for Norman’s expense record, including receipts, as required by the agreement.

After receiving the report, Moen sent Norman an e-mail regarding other items charged to his city credit card that were not allowed under the agreement, according to court records.

The e-mail, sent on July 16, requested that Norman reimburse the city an additional $64.16 for improper charges made to the card. She also reminded him that he was not allowed to use the card for personal transactions and pointed out that the card has the logo on it, so he should not be confusing it with personal cards.

When she returned to work July 19, she read an e-mail Norman had sent in response.

Court records state Norman wrote, “It was not about being confused about different credit cards, it was about being in terrible financial shape when I began here in Albert Lea.” He reportedly told her he did not have any credit.

Moen then responded by e-mail that she was required by law to notify the state auditor about the reported misuse of funds, according to reports.

Norman then sent back another e-mail where he reportedly “denied improperly using the city credit card, claimed that none of the charges were for his personal use, and all of the charges were items the city is responsible for paying.”

He stated all of the transactions were work-related and the city was obligated to pay the amounts because of his employment contract. He argued that most of the questionable charges were directly related to moving expenses.

During an interview with Waseca detectives Aug. 3, Norman reportedly stated all the items he charged to the credit card were either directly or indirectly related to his moving or relocating expenses.

“The defendant said that his interpretation of his employment contract obligated the city to pay for all of the expenses he charged to his city credit card,” court records state. “He said that once he was notified by Moen that the items were not eligible expenses, he cut a check immediately to the city.”

When asked whether there were any personal changes made to his card he responded no; however, when asked about the feminine hygiene products and women’s shoes, he admitted those were personal items that should not have been charged on his card.

“The defendant claimed then he must have confused the city credit card with his personal debit card as a way to explain why items for women were charged to his city credit card,” the report continued.

The detective learned that Norman obtained his personal debit card after the date the charges were made at Shopko and Herberger’s.

Norman told police he was the only person to use the card and that he made all the charges to the account.

Read a list of the credit card transactions in case.

Read story on city manager suspended.

Read past stories on Jim Norman, including two on when he was hired.