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Criminal complaint involving Mesa Public Schools filed with Attorney General's office

Posted: 9:57 PM, Nov 24, 2019
Updated: 2019-11-25 20:19:01-05
Dr. Ember Conley
Mesa Public Schools

MESA, AZ — It's been nearly one week since Mesa Public Schools put its superintendent on paid administrative leave without saying why and now ABC15 has obtained exclusive information regarding new developments.

Dr. Ember Conley was only 18 months into her three-year contract when the board made that move. Now, a criminal complaint has been filed with the Attorney General's office, accusing Dr. Conley of theft and embezzlement related to administrative raises and bonuses that may have been given without the governing board's approval.

The three-page complaint details alleged, criminal activity linked to Mesa Public Schools. The person who filed it is former Governing Board President Ben Smith, who helped hire Dr. Ember Conley.

"I'm a major fan of Dr. Conley," Smith said. "Mesa Public Schools, in my mind, kind of got in a rut. They needed to innovate, they needed to change, they needed an outside perspective."

Smith did not win his re-election campaign last year and voted against the district's recent budget increase. However he insists this is no personal grudge.

"It wouldn't make sense that I would do this for a district that I didn't like or for a community that I felt cheated by," Smith said.

Smith says he felt obligated to file a complaint after an "internal and anonymous source" came forward with information centered around $5,000 raises for the Superintendent's Executive Team.

Smith says the raises were actually drastically higher than what the board approved in June, and that contracts for promotions presented at board meetings in January and March, were executed with salaries higher than what members approved. If true, those actions would violate state law.

"It's not for me to decide whether she's guilty or not," said Smith. "I gave them directions on how to get the information so they can decide for themselves, they can determine if a crime has been committed."

The Attorney General's office sent ABC15 this statement saying, "We are aware of allegations involving Mesa Public Schools and are reviewing specific complaints made to our office. Additional information will be provided when available."

We reached out to Dr. Conley for comment. We have not heard back but have been told she is now reviewing this complaint with her attorney.

A spokesperson with Mesa Public Schools sent a statement saying, "Any citizen may submit a complaint for review by the Attorney General. It is standard district procedure that due to the timing of the legislative budget process, contracts are issued and then adjusted based on the Board-approved compensation plan."

The board is set to meet Tuesday to further explain why there was no overspending.

Members will also discuss the superintendent's contract and ongoing negotiations in executive session.