Gov. Mark Dayton appointed Michael Vekich interim executive director of the Minnesota State Lottery, where he will take over an agency in turmoil following the resignation of the previous director late last year.
Vekich replaces Ed Van Petten, who resigned abruptly after a Star Tribune report raised questions about questionable travel expenses, including $7,000 in reimbursements to stay in time share units he owns.
The State Lottery also suspended a senior employee and reprimanded another for failing to exercise adequate oversight related to the expense issue, according to disciplinary letters obtained through the state's public records law. Minnesota Public Radio first reported the disciplinary actions.
Vekich, a certified public accountant, heads his own company and sits on corporate and nonprofit boards. He is chairman of the board of trustees of Minnesota State Colleges and Universities.
In 2004, he was named interim executive director of the State Lottery by former Gov. Tim Pawlenty after then-executive director George Andersen took his own life after he faced questions about questionable expenses. Vekich earned praise for guiding the lottery in that rough period.
Vekich said he will tell lottery employees that "they are valued, and we move on with the business at hand, and we expect to operate at the highest level of efficiency and integrity," he said during a phone interview.
In addition to Van Petten's resignation, lottery chief financial officer Joe Pahl lost a week's pay while the general counsel received a written reprimand, each for failing to keep watch over agency expenses.
The lottery's former acting director is suing the state after she was fired for being drunk on the job, though she says in court filings that she was encouraged to drink by Van Petten and received harsher discipline than male colleagues.
Lottery officials have declined to comment on the lawsuit.
Vekich said he felt a civic duty to answer Dayton's call. "When a chief executive of a state calls and asks you to perform public service," you should do so, he said.
Myron Frans, the commissioner of Minnesota Management and Budget, the state's budget office, said Minnesota is lucky to have Vekich.
"We believe [Vekich], with his business consulting background and experience in 2004 running the lottery, provides a great opportunity to manage the lottery and give us his opinions about how it can be improved," he said.
In fiscal year 2015, the state lottery, which has about 150 employees, sent $135 million in profit to the state, including $73 million to the general fund and another $62 million to various conservation and environment funds.