COLORADO SPRINGS — News 5 Investigates learned Academy School District 20 has been looking into allegations that its top security director attempted to rip off taxpayers by not recording time off on his payroll records.
Public records obtained under the Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) confirm D20 Security Director Richard "Rich" Payne did not accurately record time off for several months in 2021.
News 5 learned about this discovery late last year. Since then, we've made multiple attempts to schedule a sit-down, on camera interview with Superintendent Thomas Gregory and Payne to help add context to this situation.
Brian Grady, a retired Colorado Springs police commander and former D20 Security Director is coming out of retirement to raise ethics concerns against Payne---who took over as D-20's Security Director last summer.
News 5 Investigates found this isn't the first time Payne has faced scrutiny.
In March of 2021, our partners at KMGH Denver 7 News aired a story on how the Douglas County School District spent less than 16-percent of the nearly $7 million it received for school safety upgrades and mental health resources in the wake of the STEM school shooting.
At that time, Payne was that district's security director and he was in charge of overseeing how that money was spent.
Denver 7 Investigative Journalist Jennifer Kovaleski asked, "Why was only $1 million of that money spent over a year later?"
"Because there have been multiple projects and some projects cannot move forward until other projects are completed and with COVID-19, things have been pushed back, Payne said"
You can watch the full KMGH Denver 7 report here.
3 months after that report aired, Payne was hired in D-20.
His first day, according to public records, was July 1, 2021.
According to Grady, there's just one problem.
"He first logged onto his computer on July 14th and then the next login he had was on August 23rd and school had already started at that time," Grady explained. "So it appears he had not checked his email and he had not responded to any emails. I don't know what he was doing at that time."
News 5 spent time going over payroll records, computer logins and door card swipes and found numerous days where Payne appeared not to be working, yet his payroll records for the entire month ofJuly, August and September 2021 show he never took a single day off.
Two days after Grady says he filed an open records request (CORA request) seeking Payne's payroll records, we uncovered Payne submitted time off---16 days in total which had previously not been recorded. News 5 Investigates asked Grady to confirm whether this discovery was accurate.
"You discovered Mr. Payne had not entered time off until after you filed a records request?"
"That is correct," Grady said.
News 5 notified Academy D-20 back in December 2021 concerning details of our investigation. Interview requests with Superintendent Gregory and Security Director Payne were denied, so we showed up to a recent school board meeting to try and get answers in-person. 30-minutes before the Feb. 3 2022 school board meeting began, we caught up with both Gregory and Payne in the district's atrium.
News 5 asked Payne, "Are you willing to sit down and talk with us about your time cards and records?
"The district has already provided everything and no, at this point I'm not going to make any comment," Payne sent.
News 5 also provided Payne with a business card with our phone number and email address if he decided to change his mind and answer questions in the week leading up to our investigative report airing.
"The part of this that concerns me the most is it went undetected by his supervisor for months and would have still been undetected had I not filed a CORA request," Grady said. "So at the end of the year when he has an excessive leave balance and he can't carry over more than 40 hours, he would have taken additional time off and that would be a waste of taxpayer money. There's not a criminal statute that calls it theft, but it's pretty darn close."
Superintendent Gregory also declined to answer questions on camera.
"At this point I don't think we have any further comment," Gregory said.
A district spokesperson did tell News 5 that the matter was investigated and that additional training on how to enter vacation and leave time in the system was provided.
Grady has also raised concerns with the hiring process of Payne and a potential conflict of interest between Payne and Superintendent Gregory.
The D-20 school board used a third-party agency to investigate those allegations and released the following report which you can read in its entirety.
This article will be updated with new information as it becomes available.
FAQ's and Transparency report:
Q: When was News 5 first informed about this subject matter?
A: We were first contacted about this matter in Nov. 2021. We then spent a few weeks gathering and going over supporting documentation as part of our routine fact-checking process. We then reached out to the district in Dec. 2021 for comment.
Q: What is the Superintendent's role in hiring or overseeing Payne?
A: Superintendent Gregory was an "applicant screener" during the initial (first posting) for the D-20 Security Director position. Previously, the Security Director would report to the Superintendent, but a district spokesperson said that chain of command has been modified. "The Director of Security position moved from reporting to the superintendent to reporting to a newly created position of Chief Operating Officer (COO)," spokesperson Alison Cortez said.
Q: Did taxpayers lose any money?
A: No. Upon the discovery that Mr. Payne had not entered his time off into the system, staff leave was recorded (backdated) for a 4-month period.
Q: Was there any evidence that Mr. Payne purposely tried to deceive taxpayers by not recording time off appropriately?
A: The district says Mr. Payne had pre-approved time off and went through the appropriate channels in requesting that time off. However, it's unclear why no one from the district discovered the time off wasn't being properly recorded until after an open records request was filed. "Any time-off/leave discrepancies in the district reporting system have been resolved," Cortez said via email.
Q: Did the school district know you (KOAA-TV) were going to show up and ask questions at a board meeting?
A: Yes. News 5 believes in open transparency. Prior to the February 2022 school board meeting, we let the district know that we had an obligation to try and get an on-record comment from D-20 Security Director Rich Payne and Superintendent Thomas Gregory. After many attempts to get a sit-down interview failed, we did let the district know in advance that we would be going to a board meeting.
Have a story idea for our investigative team? We're listening!
Email us: News5Investigates@KOAA.com