What started with nagging questions from concerned citizens 18 months ago culminated Friday with a guilty plea in Scott County District Court, where Rod Thompson admitted to swindling tens of thousands of dollars from the Shakopee school district.

Thompson, named superintendent in 2012, used his school-issued credit card to splurge on sports memorabilia, first-class airfare, concert tickets and an Xbox gaming system — information revealed by residents who pored over school district records after an unexpected multimillion-dollar budget shortfall.

Gene Grugal, who filed data requests seeking the spending reports and then turned them over to police, said he felt relieved.

"We were called this small group of 'conspiracy theorists,' " Grugal said. "But we kept the same mantra: Where there's smoke there's fire."

In all, Thompson pleaded guilty to 19 felonies, including theft by swindle, embezzling public funds and possessing stolen property.

Under his plea agreement, Thompson, 53, will spend two years in federal prison — to be served concurrently with a federal sentence for the corrupt solicitation of a bribe. He pleaded guilty to the federal charge Thursday.

Between the state and federal cases, he will pay just under $75,000 in restitution.

Scott County Attorney Ron Hocevar said the punishment fit the crime.

"It was important to us that he received some prison time because his actions were such a blatant violation of the public's trust," Hocevar said after the 45-minute hearing. "He was supposed to take care of our kids and instead he took taxpayer money."

Thompson racked up hundreds of unsanctioned purchases, ranging from a $476 flat-screen TV to a $46 garden hose, as he led the district. Many of the items were ordered online and shipped to his home, but paid for with the school-issued credit card.

Controversy over his actions cast a dark cloud over the school district and eroded public trust in members of the school board.

Thompson resigned amid public outrage in July 2017, leaving the educational field and his $176,000 salary.

He now works as a clerk at Tractor Supply Co. in Moorhead, Minn., making about $13 an hour.

Thompson's attorney, Peter Wold, said that his client is remorseful for his actions and hopeful the district can finally move on.

"Rod has prided himself on being an educator," Wold said. "Part of that is teaching them personal responsibility. He knows that some of the things he did as superintendent in Shakopee violated those principles. He let down the school district and, in that sense, the children."

Dressed in a suit and tie, Thompson appeared before Judge Christian Wilton on Friday and his mother cried in the front row as he pleaded guilty to 19 of 21 original felony counts. Wilton, reciting a litany of personal expenses related to each charge, asked that Thompson affirm that he was guilty of each.

"I know that I am," he responded.

One felony count of theft by swindle related to his contractual adoption benefit and another misdemeanor count of receiving stolen property were dismissed under the terms of the plea agreement. Also dismissed were multiple misdemeanor charges related to allegations that he illegally accessed and altered files on the school district's Google Drive.

One of the conditions of Thompson's bond bars him from contacting anyone from the school district — meaning that he's unable to issue an apology to his former colleagues even though he'd like to, Wold said.

A 16-month FBI investigation found Thompson also used his position to obtain personal benefits from ICS Consulting, a construction firm that managed the Shakopee High School expansion project. Authorities say that in 2012 he coerced the company into renovating his basement — a job costing roughly $44,000 — in exchange for school contracts.

Over a period of six years, Thompson also sent bills to the company for tickets to Vikings, Timberwolves and Twins games, martial arts events and luxury hotels totaling more than $5,000, court records show. He then awarded contracts to ICS Consulting that "substantially exceeded" the amounts he caused them to spend on his behalf.

Thursday, he pleaded guilty to one count of corrupt solicitation of a bribe in federal court.

"The defendant held a position of public trust with an obligation to act in the best interest of Shakopee schools, staff, and students he was responsible for," FBI special agent in charge Jill Sanborn said in a statement. "Sadly, the defendant chose to violate this sacred trust by making the conscious decision to steal and deprive teachers of the very resources necessary to provide a quality education."

In the wake of Thompson's "unscrupulous actions," current Shakopee Superintendent Mike Redmond announced Friday that the district's finance department would examine all interactions with ICS for additional irregularities.

U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson will sentence Thompson on March 29 in St. Paul. He'll be sentenced on state charges May 3.

Liz Sawyer • 612-673-4648