Community demands accountability for North High Booster Club theft

Courtesy of North High/Facebook

Reportedly, $39,000 to $40,000 was stolen from the Minneapolis North High Athletics Booster Club, the loss discovered sometime in April. News of the alleged theft was first reported on the club’s Facebook page.

 The then-club president “admitted taking tens of thousands of dollars” revealed during preparation for the club’s 2021 taxes and quickly reported to the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) according to the Facebook post.

Now, almost two months later, community members want answers: “We need to know,” said Obie Kipper, Jr. at a June 2 press conference at Sabathani Community Center in South Minneapolis. He and several others in attendance posed the question that if former booster club president Corrine Martin, a North High parent, indeed committed theft, will she ever be charged with the crime?

The North High Booster Club’s Facebook page states its purpose as “raising funds, distributing money…promoting participation in athletics.” A May 31 post said that a new club president is now in place, as well as new financial practices—“the ex-officer has returned approximately $10,000” and the Minneapolis Foundation has established a fund for raising the stolen money, the page noted.

North Athletic Director Kale Severson was contacted for comment but our requests were unanswered.

“School leaders at North High School reached out to the Minneapolis Foundation this spring,” the foundation’s senior vice president Chanda Smith Baker told the MSR. “We routinely open special-purpose funds on behalf of individuals and organizations that wish to raise money for a particular cause, and that is what we did in this case…with the assurance that all contributions will be overseen by the foundation.”

This is the second time in several years that allegations of missing money have surfaced at North High athletics. Former North AD Dr. Leo Lewis was placed on administrative leave, then later fired in August 2018 after being accused of stealing $8,000 from the school’s athletic funds. 

“[He] brought in hundreds of thousands of dollars during his tenure as athletic director,” said Kipper of Lewis, who was hired in 2014. “Dr. Lewis did not take one penny. The truth is those allegations were totally unfounded and not true.”

Lewis later settled under a confidential agreement with the Minneapolis School District after he filed suit for wrongful termination. Kipper, a member of Lewis’ legal team, remembered, “The accusations made against Dr. Lewis made not only state-wide news but national news.” 

Lewis is Black; Martin is White. Kipper and others noted last week that Martin’s alleged theft has not received the kind of media attention Lewis’s did. “We have a concern with regard to racial bias,” stated Kipper.

Furthermore, Kipper said last week he wanted to know if the Minneapolis School Board was looking into the North Booster Club’s missing money. Board Chair Kim Ellison and Director Sharon El-Amin provided a joint statement to the MSR: 

“The school board was notified…upon its discovery. We were informed that…steps are being taken to put systems in place to prevent this from happening in the future.  

“School booster clubs are separate 501(c)3 organizations and outside of the direct control of the school board and school district. This fall, the school board will be reviewing our policies and regulations related to interacting with external fundraising groups designated to support students and schools.”

Because Martin has a child attending North High, Kipper said, “We don’t want her involved in anything else involving North High School.” He and others called for an MPD investigation and said the state attorney general’s office should look into the matter as well.

The community should know how the theft allegations are being handled and any findings made public, said Kipper.