A longtime Columbia Heights police officer, who also sits on the Fridley school board, has been fired for failing to disclose his financial stake in a check-cashing business while responding to felony-level police calls there.
Joseph Sturdevant was terminated in April, and his firing became final this summer after an appeal was rejected because it was filed after the deadline. He joined the police department in May 1996.
Sturdevant grew up in Columbia Heights, served on the city’s charter commission and also sat on the Columbia Heights school board until his term expired in 2012. His father, also Joseph Sturdevant, served as Columbia Heights mayor in the late 1990s.
According to the city’s notice to terminate document obtained by the Star Tribune, Sturdevant was fired this spring after department brass discovered he was financially involved with Your Exchange, a check-cashing business with five north metro locations including Columbia Heights. Your Exchange charges customers 2 to 5 percent of a check’s value to cash it.
“He admitted that his financial involvement was a conflict of interest but did not tell anyone of that conflict,” according to the document. “He handled felony level calls for service at the business which included investigation and possible charges and recovery of funds and did not disclose his conflict of interest.”
When initially asked about his dealings with Your Exchange, Sturdevant was said to be “deceptive.”
He did not respond to a request for comment.
“Unfortunately there are circumstances where we find that an employee has not met our high standards, and corrective action — to include either discipline or termination — is appropriate,” Columbia Heights Police Chief Scott Nadeau said in a written statement.
Officials with Fridley Public Schools said Thursday it was unclear if the police firing would affect Sturdevant’s position on the school board.
“At this point we really don’t know. We haven’t seen it. This is the first time we’ve heard about it,” said Fridley Schools spokeswoman Jael McLemore. “It will be important for us to review this information.”
A pattern of deception
According to the city’s notice to terminate, last January Nadeau saw Sturdevant, who was off duty, leaving Your Exchange on Central Avenue in Columbia Heights.
Sturdevant told the chief he was cashing checks. Skeptical that Sturdevant would pay a fee to cash a check, Nadeau learned that the officer had a business arrangement with Your Exchange that was not listed in his personnel files. Officers are required to disclose all outside employment and business dealings that pose a potential conflict of interest.
After repeated questioning, Sturdevant told an internal affairs investigator that he had loaned $100,000 to his cousin, who was part-owner of Your Exchange. He said the $100,000 check to his cousin was actually made out to SJB Enterprises Inc., the ownership entity of Your Exchange.
Sturdevant told the investigator that he would stop by Your Exchange to pick up loan repayment checks, cash personal checks free of charge and use the restroom.
According to the document, Sturdevant said he wasn’t aware that check-cashing businesses often are involved in criminal investigations related to theft and money laundering, and that he didn’t know some people view check-cashing businesses as “preying on poor people.”
He said “he had not reported his interest earned on the loan from 2013, 2014 or 2015 on his taxes,” according to city documents. Even though it was a large loan, Sturdevant said, he never saw any financial documents related to the business.
But when police interviewed Sturdevant’s cousin, whose name was redacted from the document, he seemed to contradict Sturdevant’s statements.
According to the document, the cousin said he didn’t have a financial interest in Your Exchange. Rather, he said, he set up the meeting between Sturdevant and Your Exchange’s owner, whose name also was redacted.
According to business filings in the Minnesota secretary of state’s office, the chief executive of SJB Enterprises Inc. is Scott J. Bennett. He did not return a call for comment, but according to his online biography, he “has innovated the under-banking industry for over 13 years.”
Sturdevant’s termination documentation also cites other disciplinary matters. He had used lower-cost collector license plates, which are intended for classic cars rarely driven, on a vehicle he drove to and from work.
He also posted a photo on Facebook identifying himself as a police officer who supported a former Columbia Heights school board member accused of making anti-Muslim remarks. Sturdevant denied making the post before later admitting to it.
“This current Your Exchange issue is the third time that he was found to be evasive, deceptive and untruthful when asked about an issue by a supervisor,” according to the termination document.