Unsealed search warrant reveals why Stockton Unified board president was raided

A search warrant that triggered a raid on Stockton Unified School District’s board president was unsealed this week, revealing for the first time what deputies were looking for when they showed up at her door the morning of Nov. 14.

The search — and the underlying investigation detailed in the newly-unsealed documents — targeted alleged misuse of a school district credit card by Board President AngelAnn Flores, and other alleged misconduct.

The ordeal kicked off the afternoon of Nov. 9, the warrant shows, when Judge Richard Mallet gave the sheriff's office the green light to search the board president and school district's offices.

Around 8 a.m. on Nov. 14, about 10 deputies knocked on the door of Flores’ south Stockton home, she said.

They said they were looking for evidence of stealing public money, the warrant shows, as well as failure to produce government documents, witness intimidation, and Brown Act violations.

Deputies combed Flores’ home and vehicles for several hours while the board president was questioned at the sheriff’s office, she said.

Flores was dismissed around 1:40 p.m., she said.

The board president denies misusing district money.

"It's very simple on my end," she said Monday. "They gave (the card) to me for district business, I used it for district business."

Deputies seized two iPhones, an iPad, a MacBook Air laptop and documents belonging to Flores, the warrant states. Detectives also asked Google and Meta (owner of Facebook) for access to Flores' online accounts.

A USB drive with information related to Flores' district credit card was also seized from Stockton Unified’s downtown headquarters, the warrant shows.

The investigation was conducted by Art Harty, captain of the sheriff’s Special Services Division, it shows. Det. Rocky Bulen of the Agriculture Gang Narcotics Enforcement Team authored the warrant request.

No charges had been filed against Flores as of Tuesday morning.

Who went to the sheriff?

The investigation has been under way since at least April 9, the documents show.

That's when Stockton Unified’s former Interim Superintendent Traci Miller contacted the sheriff’s office looking to discuss “issues of concern regarding SUSD board members, specifically the board president."

Miller served as interim from July 2022 until June 2023, when the board allowed her contract as the district’s top official to expire.

Stockton Unified School District interim superintendent Dr. Traci E. Miller attends a town hall meeting about the critical grand jury report at the SUSD headquarters in downtown Stockton.
Stockton Unified School District interim superintendent Dr. Traci E. Miller attends a town hall meeting about the critical grand jury report at the SUSD headquarters in downtown Stockton.

The investigation also appears based in part on an interview with Stockton Unified’s Chief Business Official, Joann Juarez.

Juarez was tapped in August 2022 to temporarily lead business operations after former Chief Business Official Marcus Battle resigned. In April, she tried to relinquish the role, writing in a resignation letter that Flores’ “comments related to (her) lack of work ethic and knowledge have created a false narrative within SUSD and community.”

Juarez has yet to step down from the position.

Miller and Juarez did not respond for comment about their roles in the investigation by deadline.

'Questionable expenditures'

According to the warrant, Juarez told investigators on May 2 she had noticed “some questionable expenditures coming from district credit card use belonging to all board members, including Flores,” following an audit of expense reports.

“According to Juarez, these transactions are still being investigated, but she believes at this time, up to $1,000 worth of transactions (by Flores) are improper for the year 2023 and may be for personal use,” the warrant states.

Among the transactions Juarez claimed were “improper” were local fuel purchases when district travel was not scheduled, and several nighttime transactions at fast food restaurants.

Flores claimed trustees were given only vague guidelines about spending when first given credit cards in 2019. "There was no direction except, 'Here's your credit card, trustee, use it for district business.'"

By May 2023, when Juarez reported Flores, the district's policy barred “personal expenses” as well as certain other purchases, and required officials to turn in receipts within 30 days.

But the policy didn't specify what counts as a “personal expense,” or set a specific dollar limit on spending, board documents show. A district spokesperson couldn't immediately be reached for clarification on spending limits at the time.

Flores says it's $500 per month. "I never went over," she said.

Juarez also told detectives that Flores hadn’t turned in all of her expense receipts. Flores claims she always turned in her receipts until she began to suspect they were being leaked to 209 Times.

Flores spent about $2,000 total between 2018-2022, and $6,000 since becoming board president in January, Juarez claimed, though evidence of this wasn’t included in the warrant.

Stockton Unified School District interim chief business official Joann Juarez gives a business and finance presentation to the SUSD board during a special study session at the SUSD Arthur Coleman Jr. Administrative Complex in downtown Stockton on Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023.
Stockton Unified School District interim chief business official Joann Juarez gives a business and finance presentation to the SUSD board during a special study session at the SUSD Arthur Coleman Jr. Administrative Complex in downtown Stockton on Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023.

A month after Juarez reported Flores, the district updated its spending policy, shortening the receipt deadline to five days and stating that personal purchases would “be handled as a misuse of government funds ... and may lead to disciplinary action up to termination of employment and possibly other legal consequences."

The board adopted the new spending rules June 6.

It’s a crime for a public official to misappropriate funds and to steal, destroy, or alter public documents.

It's unclear if failing to turn in receipts could reasonably fall in this category.

On Aug. 24, current Superintendent Michelle Rodriguez asked Flores to submit all receipts, an email included in the warrant shows.

Miller reports emails

A month before Juarez talked to investigators, Miller reported to the sheriff that she felt intimidated by two emails Flores sent to her and other district employees and board members that spring.

Two days before contacting the sheriff, Miller learned that Flores was considering firing her before her contract expired, the warrant states.

Flores, on her own, doesn't have the authority to fire the superintendent.

In the first email Flores sent in March, the board president asks Miller if she plans to investigate an issue with parking fees charged at a district lot.

At the end of the message, Flores says, “Let this be an official notice that I am to be informed before any conversations with legal or any other entity, news source, or organization, regarding my role professionally and personally.”

In another email sent April 8, Flores writes, “Any (and) all conversations with legal or any law enforcement agencies regarding anything about me or any allegations made against me should be cleared by me or informed to me.”

“I am requesting a cease and desist to Traci from discussing any of my situations or allegations with anyone including staff.”

Miller said she believed the emails were threatening retaliation against anyone who reported suspected wrongdoing by Flores. It's unclear what Miller reported and to whom that led her to fear retaliation.

It’s against the law to dissuade a witness to a crime from reporting it.

Brown Act

Miller also accused the school board of violating the Brown Act — though she doesn’t specifically name Flores.

The Brown Act is an open meetings law that says members of a legislative body can't gather in a majority and make decisions without public notice and involvement.

The act also bars serial meetings, or communications between individual board members that result in a majority of the members discussing or deciding public business.

According to the warrant, Miller claimed she received phone calls on Dec. 21 saying the board wasn't planning to keep her in the superintendent job, six months before they allowed her contract to expire.

Miller claimed the calls were from Don Shalvey, CEO of San Joaquin A+, and Grupe Co. founder Fritz Grupe, the warrant states.

Bulen speculates in the documents about whether board members could have discussed their decision among themselves and then told Grupe and Shalvey.

Stockton Unified School District interim chief business official Joann Juarez, seated center left, and Dr. Susana Ramirez, interim assistant superintendent, educational services department, give a business and finance presentation to the SUSD board during a special study session at the SUSD Arthur Coleman Jr. Administrative Complex in downtown Stockton on Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023.

The report doesn’t point to any evidence that a Brown Act violation occurred.

There’s no criminal penalty for most types of Brown Act violations, though some are considered misdemeanors. Most can come with fines, fees and legal bills.

A suspicious contract

Despite the wealth of information unsealed in the warrant, much remains unknown about the investigation into Flores.

It’s unclear why law enforcement agencies issued conflicting statements about the nature of the investigation in the days following the search.

On Nov. 14, the San Joaquin County District Attorney’s Office initially stated it was part of a longstanding inquiry alongside federal agencies into a $7.3 million district contract approved without proper bidding in August 2021, and other alleged misconduct.

Flores was the lone vote against the contract, approved during the tenure of former Superintendent John Ramirez Jr. and former Board President Cecilia Mendez.

No updates regarding the investigation — involving the DA, FBI, and U.S. Department of Justice — have been provided to the public since April.

The DA’s office retracted the statement the same day.

'Several whistleblowers'

For its part, the sheriff’s office says the Flores matter is an independent “fact-finding investigation.”

It’s unclear how long the sheriff’s office has been scrutinizing the board president: while the first witness interview referenced in the warrant occurred April 9, a photo Det. Bulen took of Flores’ home and included in the documents dates back to Sept. 28.

It’s unclear who other than Juarez and Miller may have complained about Flores to the sheriff.

“This allegation was brought to us by several whistleblowers within SUSD,” Sheriff Patrick Withrow said in a statement to Stocktonia. However, no other whistleblowers were named in the warrant.

Bulen didn’t explain in the documents why Flores wasn’t searched earlier in the investigation, or whether it extended to other board members whom Juarez also accused of improper spending.

"Where are the receipts for the other board members?" Flores said Monday. "Why are Traci and the CBO not concerned about the (money) they spent?"

The investigation into Flores is not over yet. The warrant states it could take up to 90 days for investigators to complete a forensic analysis of the electronic devices seized.

Record reporter Aaron Leathley covers public safety. She can be reached at aleathley@recordnet.com or on Twitter @LeathleyAaron.

Record reporter Hannah Workman covers news in Stockton and San Joaquin County. She can be reached at hworkman@recordnet.com or on Twitter @byhannahworkman. Support local news, subscribe to The Stockton Record at https://www.recordnet.com/subscribenow.

This article originally appeared on The Record: Warrant reveals why Stockton Unified's AngelAnn Flores was searched