Archive for Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Kruse begins defense on theft charges

Preliminary hearing opens for former teachers union leader

May 10, 2005


Wayne Kruse, the former president of the Lawrence teachers union who's accused of stealing thousands of dollars in membership dues, may not have been a good bookkeeper or a wise investor.

But that hardly makes him a thief, hinted Kruse's attorney, Mark Bennett, during Monday's preliminary hearing proceedings before Douglas County District Judge Jack Murphy.

The hearing resumes at 3 p.m. Thursday.

Throughout the 90-minute hearing, Bennett asked witnesses whether they were aware that Kruse may have paid some of the union's bills with the unwritten understanding that he would be paid back as the organization's cash flow improved.

Bennett established that Kruse, in his role as Lawrence Education Assn. president, often picked up the tab -- meals and drinks, mostly -- for meetings or gatherings with teachers.

Also, he noted that on three occasions between November 2003 and April 2004, Kruse had borrowed a total of $38,500 on behalf of the Lawrence Education Assn. Each of the loans, he said, had been paid back in full.

But Kruse's successor, Sam Rabiola, testified that Kruse rebuffed several requests to turn over the union's books. He also said that on Aug. 10, 2004, Kruse said he was having trouble getting a $70,000 investment squared away and would "have a check by Aug. 13."

Rabiola, an English teacher at Free State High School, said that while it's not unusual for teachers unions in large school districts to invest idle funds, Kruse had confided that "it was not a good idea."

And despite Kruse's promise, Rabiola said, the $70,000 was not -- and has not -- been paid back. It was not made clear whether the $70,000 was truly invested or, if it was, with whom.

Rabiola said he and others were alarmed last summer when Kruse revealed he could not produce a budget for the 2004-05 school year, and instead suggested they work off of the union's 2003-04 budget.

Rabiola said he first realized the extent of the union's troubles on July 26, 2004, when Christy Levings, Kansas National Education Assn. president, let him know LEA was $144,000 behind in its dues to the state association.

Special prosecutor Steve Howe asked Rabiola whether he was concerned by Levings' revelation. Rabiola replied, "'Concerned' would be an understatement."

Howe, an assistant district attorney with the Johnson County District Attorney's Office, is prosecuting the case because Kruse's name appeared in a campaign ad for Douglas County Dist. Atty. Charles Branson. Branson asked the Johnson County prosecutors to take the case to avoid possible perceptions of a conflict of interest.

LEA Vice President Adela Solis testified that at Kruse's urging she once loaned LEA $2,500 after Kruse assured her the union was having cash flow problems and that she would be paid back.

Solis, a Cordley School teacher, said she was paid back "in a week or two."

After the hearing, Kruse denied rumors that he was addicted to drugs or gambling.

"When Nancy Reagan said 'Just Say No,' I was one of those who believed her," Kruse said. "So, no, the rumors are not true." He declined further comment.

Kruse faces charges of felony theft and forgery. Union officials say more than $97,000 of dues paid by Lawrence teachers are unaccounted for.

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