Former charter school exec charged with stealing $1 million

Heart of the Earth school
The former director of the Heart of the Earth charter school in south Minneapolis has been charged with embezzling $1.3 million from the school.
MPR Photo/Tim Nelson

Charges have been filed against the former head of a Minneapolis charter school, accusing him of embezzling more than $1.3 million from the school's funds.

According to the Hennepin County Attorney's Office, Joel Pourier, 39, illegally transferred funds from the Oh Day Aki (Heart of the Earth) Charter School from August 2003 through July 2008 -- all while the school was forced to cut back on field trips, supplies, computers and textbooks for students.

In all, Pourier faces eight felony counts of embezzlement. Each count carries a penalty of up to 20 years in prison and $100,000 in fines.

Pourier could not be reached for comment Monday afternoon.

Since 2003, Pourier, a Shakopee resident, had been in control of the school's finances at the request of the school's board of directors.

The board believed he was qualified to handle the finances, in part, because of the educational background he claimed to possess, including an MBA, according to the Hennepin County Attorney's Office.

"My investigation has revealed that the defendant neither graduated from nor attended Chadron State College, and does not hold an MBA," Assistant County Attorney Amy Blagoev wrote in a complaint.

After gaining control of the school's finances, Pourier began to write checks and transfer funds to his account, according to the complaint. If additional signatures were necessary for the transfer, he would forge signatures of board members and school administrators.

In the complaint, Blagoev wrote that Pourier often added memo lines to the transfers, such as "Speech and Therapy" and "Houghton and Mifflin," so they appeared to be related to legitimate educational expenses.

The complaint also shows that for other checks, Pourier made it appear he was being paid for an ongoing cleaning contract with the school, which officials said never happened.

In all, 124 cancelled checks were made payable to Pourier or one of his corporate entities, and deposited into accounted he controlled.

The school, which was founded almost 40 years ago by the American Indian Movement, was forced to shut down last summer after it had its assets frozen by the state and the Minneapolis School District revoked its charter.

Your support matters.

You make MPR News possible. Individual donations are behind the clarity in coverage from our reporters across the state, stories that connect us, and conversations that provide perspectives. Help ensure MPR remains a resource that brings Minnesotans together.