Cool & Unusual Punishment

Luginbilled - Episode 5

Episode Summary

On this episode, Jodie reaches all the way to the East Coast to get answers, and is guided accordingly. Cool & Unusual Punishment is a member of the Nerd & Tie Network! Find more shows from N&T at their website in the show notes.

Episode Notes

Episode 5 Documents

Nerd & Tie Network

Episode Transcription

Eric [recording]: “Before I adjourn, I need to report to the board that we have received a resignation letter by Commissioner Joe Luginbill.”

Tyler:  You're listening to episode five of Luginbilled, our special series on the music Man of Eau Claire. My name is Tyler Haas, and joining me in the living room studio. Jodie, how are you?

Jodie: I'm doing good. Are you ready to hear a story?

Tyler: I'm ready to hear a story. Can you tell us where we left off?

Jodie: We left off, our last episode focused on the smile house. And we are going back in time a little bit to April 23rd of 2019 with this episode.

Tyler: Okay.

Jodie: I think before I get into what exactly this is all about, I want to first give listeners an idea of what charity fundraising is. Not charity fundraising as just a generic thing, but an organization called Charity Fundraising. They are at CFR one dot org. I talked to John from charity fundraising for a couple of hours the other day, and he explained to me in better detail what they do. They are an organization that has the ability to get greatly authenticated items. So they’re things that are actually the items, you know. Things like signed Beyonce lyrics, or a Brett Farve Jersey, or posters.

Tyler: Things that you would auction off.

Jodie: Yeah. How it works is that an organization chooses items that they want to feature at their fundraiser. They don't pay anything upfront for those items. They sell them at an auction for their fundraiser. And there is like, a base value that they're worth. Let's say, if it was Beyonce lyrics and they were $300, the suggested starting bid would be $350.

Tyler: $300 for Queen bee lyrics?

Jodie: Queen Bee? Isn’t it Bae?

Tyler: Shit.

Jodie: Oh, my God. You are such a white guy. Queen Bee. Anyway, the idea is that you pay back to charity fundraising, the base amount that each item is worth, and you make 100% of the profit on anything above that. So if those sold for $600 then you know you would make $300, if the value was at $300, and you return the items that you don't sell.

I just, it was confusing to me, and I'm not really familiar with that, like, nonprofit fundraising world. So he explained that to me, you know, as well as, we talked about a lot of things. Anyway, The Luginbill Children's Foundation attempted to use charity fundraising for their first Andrew Creagh Memorial Scholarship fundraiser in 2017. But they came to it too late, and there was no way for charity fundraising to turn around and get a contract and get the items to them. In 2018 they did it and there was no problem. Joe chose items. They sold items, they didn't sell some items, they returned the items, they paid the base cost of everything, and it was no problem. But then things are a little bit different in 2019, and we're going to talk about that. And all of this leads up to an unexpected conclusion.

This starts on April 23rd, 2019. We've got a contract that the Luginbill Children's Foundation, Joe Luginbill, signed on behalf of with charity fundraising. This was for the Andrew Cray Memorial Scholarship event to be held on May 10th of 2019, and our listeners will recognize that, because we've talked about that event in a previous episode. There was a whole bunch of pages outlining how things worked with getting items returned and blah, blah blah. Payment for sold items has to be done within 10 days of your event date. When you have your event, you are to return your items that you don't sell and pay for items that you do. So when I talked to John, who is somebody who works at charity fundraising, he told me that a lot of nonprofits don't pay in 10 days because sometimes the only cut checks once a month or some nonprofits are slow. And so there's already a built in understanding that this isn't going to really take 10 days. But the expectation is 10 days, because then you hope 10 days, and you get it in 30, you know. So after the fundraiser, Joe sends an email on May 14th to John, who-- his official titles’ fundraising assistant-- He says, “Hi, John. I hope you're doing well. We did not sell the signed Beach Boys guitar, the Aretha Franklin record, Barbra Streisand album, or Rocky Poster. We sold the rest.” So that triggers an actual invoice that gets sent to the Luginbill Children's Foundation for the items that they did sell, which was an Elton John record album for $400, a Star Wars, 9A. That went for 800 bucks. And a Stan Lee Spider Man sketch that went for $750. So these are like cool items, you know. This total was 1950 bucks, the base value for all three of these items. I will tell you that when I called charity fundraising to discuss all of this with them, they're located in New Jersey. Definitely not local. They still remember this. And when I mentioned Joe Luginbill, this guy laughed like they all know very well this case. That's how bad it gets.

So they get an invoice and you're supposed to pay within 10 days. As I said, that's May 14th. They get the invoice. So technically, that payments due technically, on the 24th. All right, Here we go. May 29th, 2019 from John, “Hello, Joe. I hope all is well. I'm checking in for an update on our $1950 check from your May 10th fundraiser. As of today, May 29th, we have not received it. As you know, per the reservation form, we do require payment within 10 days of your event date. Can you please reply and let me know what day our check was mailed? Thank you.”

Then we go to May 30th from John, “Hi joe. I'm following up on the below email,” which is the one I just read. “Can you give me a reply today, please? Thank you. Best regards. John.”

On the 31st of May, Joel writes back and says, “Hi, John. I hope you've had a great week. I’m at a conference in Milwaukee right now, but I will check on the date and check number when I get back. It was mailed after you sent the final invoice. If you have not received it yet, I can certainly cancel the check and send a new one. Thanks for all your help.”

Tyler: Man. There's a secretary who is fumbling these checks. But I'm in a meeting, though, always in a meeting. I can get back to you, but I’m like texting you onto the table right now because I am, like, you know, super important meeting.

Jodie: These guys at charity fundraising were so wonderfully forthcoming, and you know, he was pulling these up a first, he wasn't aware that I had all of this documentation. So he was, like, going to walk me through-

Tyler: He’s like “Oh. Get a lot of this one.”

Jodie: Yeah. Yeah. And he was like, he's in a conference, and he has this wonderful jersey accent, you know? And he's in a conference, and this and that yada, yada, yada. I was like, “Well, you probably don't realize, but, like, for me, this is like such a classic-”

Tyler: This is Joe move 1-3-A.

Jodie:. Yeah. Well, right away on that same date Friday, May 31st John writes back and says, Thanks so much, Joe. I will await your update when you return from the conference, John.”

June 4th, 2019. From John to Joe. “Any update on our end? So far, we have received no payment. Should you cancel and overnight a new check and email me the tracking number so I can check on the status online, Please let me know. Thanks.”

Well, at this point, when I'm talking to John, where the people at charity fundraising start to wonder about this nonprofit and about Joe. They work with hundreds of nonprofits. They work with places like the Ronald McDonald House. So big groups, you know, But every once in a while, they get a group.

Tyler: Yeah, they probably have an interoffice term for the, like, the runners.

Jodie: There's probably, of the thousands of fundraisers they do a year, there's probably 30 that are somewhat problematic. And then there's probably 10 that cause them some headaches, right?

Tyler: Did you ask him at the end of that phone call if they're gonna, when they get those 10 going forward, they're going to refer to it as like, “Oh, I think we got Luginbilled again?” Yeah, you could have that one. It's on us.

Jodie: I did tell them that that, you know, when we were talking about the podcast and how we had made that a verb, he thought that was pretty funny. When him, or whomever started looking into Joe, he was like, “this guy is quote ‘too good to be true.’” It didn't seem possible. “The celebrity chef.” It almost seemed like a cartoon character.

Well, I should mention that, they're not referenced here, but I believe they made seven phone calls also to him. June 5th is when John at charity fundraising writes to Michael, who is the director at Charity Fundraising. And he forwards the stuff and says, “Michael, please call our V I. P. client Joe Luginbill regarding the 1,950 check from his May 10th fundraiser. Please let me know on update and how to proceed after connecting with Joe. Thanks.” Another thing that's important to note is Joe was using at least seven different emails to correspond with these people, and they found that strange also. You'd get one from this one and one from this one, and it all felt at some point, like a way for them to get confused as to how to really connect with the guy. And there is a document that has “to Joe” and then it's redacted, meaning blacked out.

Tyler: Just seven black bars.

Jodie: Oh, it's real long, so I know that That's correct.

So now we've got Michael involved. So now we have Michael, a charity fundraising involved in this, right? And on June 6 he sends Joe a message that says, “Hi, Joe. I just called and left a message for you. Can you please get back to us today on status of payment.” All right.

Thursday, June 13th of 2019, we're back to John of Charity Fundraising, “Hi Joe. Any update on payment of $1950 from your May 10th fundraiser? As of today, June 12th, it has still not arrived. Can you please let me know an update today?” Thank you.”

June 17th from John to Joe,  “Hi joe. Any update at all on your end? As of today, June 17th, we have not received our $1950 check. Can you update me today, please?”

Up until this point, these have all been really friendly, right?

Tyler: That last one you just read, that was the 17th?

Jodie: Yeah.

Tyler: Okay, that's over a month.

Jodie: Yeah. Over a month late of dodging phone calls and emails. Now, this is where things get a little bit-

Tyler:  Spicy?

Jodie: Yeah, things get a little more firm. Okay. Okay. On Monday, July 22nd is when things escalate, this gets sent a legal notice, they send Joe an email, and you can see where this is all redacted, because those were all the emails that he was using. “Dear Mr Luginbill, I represent charity fundraising. As of today, July 22nd 2019, Charity fundraising has not received their $1950 check from your sale of three auction items Charity Fundraising provided on consignment to your May 10th 2019 fundraiser quote ‘Andrew Cream Memorial Scholarship Dash Don't stop believing.’ for Luginbill Children's Foundation.” Until now, it's just been like, amount due, date I'm asking. And then suddenly, on July 22nd, things get a little more specific to the Luginbill Children's Foundation and in such a way that I think, obviously, is communicating-

Tyler: That's not a form letter anymore.

Jodie: This is the first time in the correspondence that it becomes clear that they have not only not paid, but they have also not returned the unsold items. “You see, I understand your organization is committed to ensuring that every child in the Chippewa Valley-”

Tyler: [laughter]

Jodie: Yeah. I mean, just wait. “-grows up in a safe, kind and loving community. A very rewarding nonprofit that charity fundraising is happy to support. Payment was due to be sent to charity fundraising within 10 days of your may 10th 2019 fundraiser. Please forward me today a FedEx or UPS tracking number for charity fundraising’s $1950 certified check, as well as the tracking for the return of the four unsold auction items so that further actions are not needed to be taken by my office. Thank you, Ben.”

So we have got now-

Tyler: Yeah, he gets, uh, really, like, “kinda sounds like you're supposed to be serving your community, Joe. Don't know why you would want to do this to us. We just want-”

Jodie: Right. And-

Tyler: Also he does a great job of heading off whatever lies he's expecting to be told. Like, “here's the email of you saying this. Here's the invoice we both saw. Like, here's all the things you're probably gonna lie about and evidence that, like, I already know all these things. So let's not... Let's talk turkey, Joe. Joe let's talk turkey about these items you haven’t sent.”

Jodie: That makes this even funnier, because then on July 24th, just two days later, is when legal notice rights to Joe again. “Dear Mr Luginbill, as of today, July 24th charity fundraising has received the unsold items.” So Joe read that email and instantly put those items in the mail like overnight, right? “However, charity fundraising has not received the $1950 payment for the auction items you sold. Please forward me a tracking number for payment today. As on Monday, July 29th, I will have to take further actions at no notice to you to collect the $1950 due to charity fundraising.”

I mean, this is a company in New Jersey from something that happened. You know, the actual event has happened now, over a year ago, and they remember all of this, okay.

As you've noticed most everything I've been reading, which has been a lot, has all basically been from charity fundraising to Joe. We've gotten very little. On July 26th of 2019, Joe writes to Ben and says, “Hello, Benjamin.-”

Tyler: Tell me again, How long is this after that?

Jodie: Just the 24th.

Tyler: Okay, so a few days later.

Jodie: Yep, the 26th. “Hello, Benjamin. I'm glad you received the items. The replacement check will be mailed next week when I am back in the state and I will be sure to email you a tracking number. Best, Joe Luginbill.”

On Friday, July 26, 2 hours approximately after Joe sends that email, legal notice-- Ben-- writes back and says, “Thank you, Mr Luginbill. I will await that tracking number.”

Tyler: I don't sleep, Mr Luginbill. I will be awaiting your tracking number.

Jodie: August 2nd, legal notice, “Dear Mr Luginbill, as scheduled, please forward me the tracking number for the $1950 certified funds check payable to Charity Fundraising today, Friday, August 2nd 2019. Thank you, Ben.”

Well, do you think that happened?

Jodie: This is where things change. And on September 16th, what changes is that this correspondence, along with attachments, including the confirmation of sold auction items, the invoice, and the executed contract, don't just go to Joe and his several email addresses. This is when this whole story is going to take a turn to something much more local, and something pretty impactful. This email gets CC’d to Eric Torres, who at the time was the president of the Eau ClaireSchool Board, and Laurie Bika, who was the vice president of the Eau Claire School Board. The subject is “scheme to defraud - Joe Luginbill - Luginbill Children's Foundation.”

Tyler: This is the first time anybody outside Joe Luginbill is being roped into this and that's the subject line.

Jodie: Yes.

Tyler: Okay.

Jodie: “Mr Luginbill.” Again, this is September 16th, 2019. “As of today, September 16th 2019, I have not received a reply for a FedEx UPS tracking number from my August 2nd 2019 email to you regarding the $1950 certified check payable to Charity Fundraising for the auction items you sold at the May 10th 2019 fundraiser for Luginbill Children's Foundation.”

Tyler: This is four months after the fundraiser.

Jodie: Yeah, “My office’s next step will take place on Monday, September 23rd 2019, where I will report you and your organization to Gerald Stanislavsky, Chief of Police, Eau Claire, Wisconsin, and Josh Call, Attorney General, Wisconsin Department of Justice, to file a criminal complaint and turn over all documents attached to this email to investigate this matter regarding misuse of charitable funds, fraudulent fundraising activities, nonprofit theft scheme to defraud, embezzlement and breaches of fiduciary duty by a nonprofit leader. I will also be contacting the local media in Eau Claire, as well as the board members of the Eau Claire area School district.”

How they even came to arrive at realizing that they had somewhere else to send this, was the fact that Joe used his Eau Claire area school district email for a couple of these correspondences. They then put ECASD and figured out that this was the Eau Claire Area School District.

Tyler: Just imagine that it takes this company in New Jersey, that deals with much higher profile nonprofits than the Children's foundation, has to, like, do the digging themselves to get to a place where they realize, like, the leverage is to talk to people in off town like Eau Claire, like we need to talk to people in the community outside Joe. That's how we get leverage over $1900.

Jodie: Yeah, they told me that they intentionally wanted to sort sort of shame him, and they had no idea that Joe Luginbill was like a local celebrity here. They're dealing with this just as an organization that wants to collect their money, so they don't know the magnitude of what they're doing here, right.

“To avoid the actions I will take next Monday, September 23rd, overnight a certified check payable to charity fundraising for the $1950 owed to the below address within three days of this email. So there is no misunderstanding, if a tracking number for certified funds of $1950 is not received by me within three days, charity fundraising will sue you and your organization for the $1950 owed, as well as charity fundraising, attorney fees and relentlessly pursue efforts to criminally prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law. Be guided accordingly, Charity Fundraising.”

Tyler: Is that gonna be the title of our episode?

Jodie: Yeah. I love “be guided accordingly.”

Well, guess what? Joe sends a check and they get it the next day. And you might think to yourself, well, this is an interesting tale of another organization that was almost… These were almost victims. Well, this doesn't end, because Eric Torres and Laurie Becca got copied on this.

So Eric Torres, now, he doesn't know what this is really all about. If you're just being copied on that last email, you know there's a problem, but you don't know exactly what's going on. He talks to the school district's attorney. I know this because I spoke to Eric Torres.

I asked him about what happened after he got that email, because there was one remaining correspondence I have that led me to believe Eric Torres acted on this. Eric Torres gets this email. He goes to the school district's attorney. He recognizes that there is a divide between personal and professional dealings regarding school board members.

Tyler: Right, because Joe Luginbill’s on the school board, but his Children's Foundation is separate, that is not part of the school district.

Jodie: Right. You can think of school board members as you would your local assembly person or anything, they’re elected officials. If you have an elected official that does something bad, that will bode poorly for you in your next election. But other school board members, whether or not it's the president or anybody, they cannot take disciplinary action against you, okay.

There's this divide. This had already been muddied by the fact that Joe would often do personal dealings, and sign with his school board commissioner title. Eric told me that this had been a source of irritation for the other school board members because, generally speaking, nobody else there does business outside of the school board and feels like they need to sign-

Tyler: -whatever their current best title is?

Jodie: Yeah. Eric calls Joe and he confronts him. He says he didn't know what was going on, and Joe assures him that it's been taken care of and that it was a misunderstanding, and it was a matter of a lost check, and that he can disregard that email he got. And we can go back to business as usual.

Well, after Eric has that conversation, he talks to John at Charity Fundraising on the 27th of September, and he wants to know a little bit more about what was going on. At that point, John forwards to Eric all of the correspondence. May 29th, May 30th, May 31st, June 4th, June 5th, June 6, June 13th, June 17th.

Tyler: So Eric calls him and is like “I spoke to Joe and he said this was a misunderstanding, and it's all been cleared up.” And John presumably opens up an entire filing cabinet drawer like, “Oh, I could forward you some things.”

Jodie: Mhm. When Joe and Eric first spoke, Eric did not realize that this had been ongoing for months. The suggestion was that this was a simple misunderstanding. That was not what those emails show, right? He calls Joe again. Eric says, “I didn't know that this was such an issue.” And he told them, “I have seen the emails and I can't pretend to not know that this happened. I have an ethical obligation to address it. Even though this doesn't relate directly to a clear area school district business, this has the potential to reflect poorly on the board. And so what I'm going to do is, we have an upcoming closed session meeting.”

At that closed session meeting that was upcoming, Joe was going to have an opportunity to discuss and explain what happened, because Eric was forwarding all of this to all of the school board members and they were all going to be made aware of the situation. Well, closed session meeting comes, and Joe does not show up for it. There is a regular school board meeting that comes up, which is not where they would have handled this. And yet Joe doesn't show up to that. There's another closed session meeting that had been scheduled really closely after that open school board meeting. He doesn't show up for that closed session meeting. The next time they hear from Joe is when he submits his letter of resignation, which becomes public at the October 28th 2019 school board meeting.

Eric [recorded]: “Before I adjourn I need to report to the board, that we have received a resignation letter by commissioner Joe Luginbill. He has taken a position away from home, or is gonna be, I guess half-and-half. Good luck with omnipresence. So we will be starting that process right after November the first. Would you like to say something, Mr. Luginbill?”

Joe [recorded]: “I’ll just say it’s been an honor to work with all of you, and all of the staff in our district, and I’ll miss seeing everybody, but I am confident, you know, over the last four years we’ve been able to do a lot of god things together. I’m really appreciative of all of that, so thanks.”

Eric [recorded]: “We would like to express gratitude for your leadership, and your work, and we wish you the best in your additional newest endeavors.”

Tyler: So this is, what, about a month between Charity Fundraiser’s final, when they put their foot down, and the end of October, it’s a month later when Joe submits his resignation.

Jodie: Yeah, sent the email 9/16, he pays 9/17, Eric gets involved. From what I gathered in his tone on our phone conversation, was not like, threatening to Joe, it was more curiosity and acknowledging that this is something that he felt like he needed to address because it had come to them. And he felt a duty to deal with it. When I was talking to Eric, there’s in Joe’s letter of resignation, he says he is taking a new position that is going to divide his time between Washington DC and Eau Claire, so he no longer has the ability to devote fairly all of his time to the school board. You can read from this what you will, but when I was talking to Dr. Torres, it’s a pretty big coincidence that there’s an issue that comes up, and it’s one of the first times I can think of that Joe gets called out publicly on something that’s potentially fraudulent.

Tyler: It’s not that Joe wasn’t dealing with people trying to hold him accountable, but, one of the first times that people that he doesn't have a direct one-to-one line to are looking to, not even hold him accountable, cause it doesn’t sound like Eric Torres is trying to string him up or anything, but just, like, “we all need to talk about this out in the open,” and that’s something Joe has very carefully avoided throughout all of this.

Jodie: Yeah. Well, and also, with things involving scholarship recipients and the parents and whomever else at this point, you know the smile house debacle hasn’t quite reached it’s head yet, this is also are people who are not only his peers but his superiors in a situation, and he is not in control, and he cannot bully anybody, or shame anybody. After doing so much research about this guy, I can pretty safely say at this point, when he can’t control the narrative he ducks and runs. Generally, his victims feel helpless.

Well, this is a good way for us to leave off on us. This idea of ethical obligations, of having some moral obligation to not only acknowledge issues with Joe Luginbill and the Luginbill Children's Foundation, but acting and following through on those, Dr. Torres was privy to something, as he said, he couldn’t pretend he didn’t know it. And just going to explore how much that attitude of feeling ethically obligated to address, you know, things that aren’t directly related to the district, how many other times people felt ethically obligated, and if not, why not.

Tyler: Thank you for listening.

Jodie: Stay tuned.

Tyler: Luginbilled is presented by Cool and Unusual Punishment. Research and interviews by Jodie Arnold, this episode was edited and mixed by me, Tyler Haas. Music by AG music, Jeff Harvey, Xavly, Rick Dickert, Goldie Shine, Sungjay Kim, and Yuvgenny Sarabrykov. Special thanks this week to John, and everyone at Charity Fundraising, as well as Dr. Torres for speaking with us. Our website, where you can listen to past episodes, and find links to the materials and documents we referenced, is cool and unusual punishment dot com.