Pourier sentenced to 10 years in jail for stealing from school

1:07 PM, Aug 31, 2010   |    comments
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Joel Pourier

MINNEAPOLIS --  The former director of a Minneapolis charter school will serve time in prison for stealing more than a million dollars from the school.

For more than 30 years, Heart of the Earth, Oh Day Aki School educated American Indian children, teaching them about their culture and heritage.

On Monday, the former charter school was demolished to make way for new apartments.

An entire work crew tore down the building.

But it took just one man to take down Heart of the Earth.

"A good school, a cultural institution and Joel Pourier killed it," said Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman.

On Monday, a Hennepin County judge sent Joel Pourier to prison for ten years. Pourier was once the school's executive director. Last month, he pleaded guilty to stealing more than a million dollars from school coffers over five years, a crime that forced the school to shut down. In addition to prison time, Pourier was also ordered to pay a million dollars in restitution.

Prosecutors say as students waited for supplies, Pourier wrote checks to himself, spending the school's money on cars, houses and strip clubs.

Bookkeeper Mona Stegeman discovered the theft.

"It sickened me that the school could not stay open, that this one man's actions destroyed all these children's lives," she said.

Back in 2003, Pourier spoke to KARE 11. He had been hired to help get the school out of financial trouble. Prosecutors say he used a fake resume and the embezzlement began.

In court on Monday Pourier in part blamed alcoholism for his crimes, telling the judge, "My actions were wrong. I lied...I apologize for everything."

The apology comes too late for school founder and activist Clyde Bellecourt.

"This is a tremendous loss to our community," he said after the sentencing hearing.

Twenty-five people lost their jobs, but many say students lost more. They flourished at Heart of the Earth, which boasted an 80 percent graduation rate, which is well above the national graduation average for American Indian children.

Mona Stegeman says Joel Pourier took that away.

"To see this day and to see him taken off in handcuffs was a thank you God day," said Mona.

(Copyright 2010 by KARE. All Rights Reserved.)

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