SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The former superintendent of the Scottsdale Unified School District has been charged with 18 felony counts connected to alleged fraud involving a $2.5 million procurement contract when she was superintendent of the Higley Unified School District.
The charges against Denise Marie Birdwell were disclosed Thursday in a report by the Arizona auditor general's office, which investigated financial transactions at the Higley school district from 2012 to 2016.
The investigation focused on the possible misuse of public money in building two new schools.
Among the charges against Birdwell:
- Illegally steering a $2.6 million contract to vendors from whom she would receive $100,000 in payments,
- Illegally authorizing the spending of $6 million in public money to help pay for construction that school district voters had rejected,
- Failing to disclose more than $100,000 in payments from one vendor on her tax returns.
Birdwell was forced out of her job as Scottsdale superintendent in 2018 amid similar allegations of questionable dealings involving some of the same vendors she worked with at Higley schools.
"Dr. Birdwell's position as superintendent seems to have influenced Higley employees to comply with her directions to perform problematic functions," the auditor general's report says.
"Some of these employees viewed Dr. Birdwell's actions as questionable or were concerned about questioning her decisions because they feared retribution."
Birdwell's partner, Kay Hartwell Hunnicutt, was charged with three felonies related to filing a false tax return.
Hartwell Hunnicutt is accused of failing to disclose payments from one of the vendors on her tax filings.
She and Birdwell shared a joint bank account, according to the investigative report.
Hartwell Hunnicutt would later serve as Birdwell's lawyer in negotiating her superintendent contract at Scottsdale Unified.
Birdwell could not be reached for comment.
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