Former Park Center activities coordinator charged with stealing ticket revenue

Lawler fired after allegedly skimming more than $3,500 

Former Park Center High School Activities Coordinator Larry Lawler is facing felony charges for allegedly dipping into ticket sales from school sports events last semester.

The 53-year-old Plymouth resident is accused of stealing more than $3,500 in ticket revenue since January. He is charged with one count of theft by swindle over $1,000. If convicted, he faces up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Osseo Area Schools fired Lawler April 29. He had worked for the district since July 1, 2005, nearly eight years. His salary was $106,432 plus benefits.

District spokesperson Barb Olson gave three reasons for Lawler’s termination: theft of public funds, failure to hold the appropriate license for the position and failure to maintain records in accordance with the Minnesota Data Retention Act and the records retention schedule adopted by the school board.

In order to hold the position, Lawler was supposed to have a teaching license, but did not.

“We had the understanding that he was in the process of securing (the license),” Olson said.

During the investigation, the district learned that was false.

Although the district fired Lawler in April, it did not comment on the reason until charges were filed in July.

Bob DuBois of Brooklyn Park, president of the girls basketball booster club at Park Center, said he and other parents had heard rumors of the alleged incident but the district declined to provide information, citing data privacy laws.

Nevertheless, DuBois thought the district handled the situation well .

“They … quickly stepped up and put someone in place on an interim basis and did really well communicating with us,” he said.

Rob Carpentier replaced Lawler as the activities coordinator June 13.

“People are very, very excited about Rob and what the future holds,” DuBois said.

According to the criminal complaint against Lawler, school officials became suspicious after an employee noticed a discrepancy between the number of tickets she sold and the “gate receipts report” Lawler created for a girls swim meet last October.

In January, the school secretly began tracking ticket sales and comparing its results to Lawler’s reports.

Officials found discrepancies in the sales from 14 basketball games, as well as a handful of gymnastics, swimming and wrestling events, police say. The school found that Lawler’s reports from those games left $3,584 unaccounted for, according to the complaint.

The school tracked ticket sales based on the consecutive numbers printed on each ticket. At a Jan. 4 basketball game, the school recorded that the first student ticket sold was numbered 419501, and the ending ticket number was 419652. But Lawler reported the ending ticket number was 419608, the complaint says. That left 44 student ticket sales unreported. There were also 26 adult tickets unreported at the game, according to the complaint. The money paid for the unreported tickets was also unaccounted for.

The school reported similar discrepancies at the other games. Police tried obtain gate receipts reports for 2012 and prior years, but Lawler had not saved them, the complaint says.

Police say no one else possessed the money after it was turned over to Lawler at the end of each event until he finished the gate receipts report and presented the funds for deposit.

When officers searched Lawler’s home, they found a brown plastic bag on the kitchen counter containing $3,000 in cash. Police could not find the cash box the school issued to Lawler or the $300 start-up cash it contained.

Olson said the district reported the losses to its insurance company for reimbursement and that individual sports programs were not affected.

The incident also caused the district to review its practices related to ticket sales.

“Whenever there’s an investigation, we always engage in a process to identify any kind of corrective action that may need to be taken to reduce the possibility of something like this ever happening again,” she said.

After examining practices at all three of its high schools, the district did not find similar problems at the other schools. But Olson said the district is accelerating the process of moving to an online ticket sale system to reduce the amount of cash handled.

Olson does not believe the problem was indicative of a larger problem with sports in the district.

“This is not a sports issue,” she said. “This was an alleged financial crime.”

DuBois agreed.

“If people are going to hold that against Park Center … it’s short-sighted on their part,” he said. “Larry’s decisions were Larry’s decisions.”

Sun Newspapers attempted to contact Lawler or an attorney for comment, but no current phone number was available. Because Lawler had not yet made a court appearance, no defense lawyer was listed in court records for his case.

According to Edina Reality’s website July 26, the company listed Lawler’s Plymouth town house for sale June 25.

Lawler was not taken into custody. His first court appearance is Friday, Aug. 23.