Sunday, May 5, 2013

Former Vicksburg, Michigan principal Greg Tibbetts files insanity defense; investigation expands to embezzlement


The attorney for Greg Tibbetts, the former Vicksburg Middle School principal accused of having an inappropriate relationship with a Vicksburg student, has filed notice that he is pursuing an insanity defense in the case.
The notice was filed May 1 by attorney Michael Hills in Kalamazoo County Circuit Court, where Tibbetts is facing 13 counts of criminal sexual conduct and using a computer in association with child pornography.

Meanwhile, Vicksburg Assistant Superintendent Steve Goss, who oversees the district's finances, said Friday that district officials are working with the Kalamazoo County Sheriff's Office to investigate about $15,000 in suspicious purchases on a district-owned credit card controlled by Tibbetts.

No criminal charges have resulted yet, authorities say. Word of the probe got out because sheriff deputies are interviewing middle-school staff.

“Vicksburg Community Schools takes its fiduciary responsibility very seriously and has a zero tolerance policy with regard to misuse of funds. Accordingly, the District intends to pursue charges against Mr. Tibbetts to the fullest extent of the law,” Goss said in a written statement issued Friday morning.

Tibbetts, 42, was principal of Vicksburg Middle School for nine years. He resigned his job last fall in the wake of accusations that he was sexually involved with a 16-year-old Vicksburg student.

The sheriff department's report said the boy was first befriended by Tibbetts in 2010, when he was an eighth-grader at Vicksburg Middle School.

The alleged relationship was discovered last September when the 16-year-old's mother discovered a sexually explicit text message exchange between her son and someone who appeared to be Tibbetts.

The police investigation also uncovered another lengthy text message exchange that suggests Tibbetts was texting as he was performing a sex act in front of an Internet camera for the teen.

In addition, deputies found photos of young men on Tibbetts' school-owned iPad. None of the photos appeared to be of Vicksburg students.

Hills could not be reached this morning to comment on the insanity defense.

However, Carrie Klein, chief assistant in the Kalamazoo County Prosecutor's Office, the next step is for a judge to order a psychiatric evaluation at the state forensic center in Ypsilanti.

"They will render an opinion on whether Mr. Tibbetts is mentally ill and whether he meets the level of insanity" that would allow for such a defense, she said.

Klein said that the defense and prosecution also can have their own experts examine Tibbetts and offer their opinion.

In Michigan, a criminal defendant is considered insane if he or she cannot distinguish right from wrong because of mental illness or if the mental illness is such that even though the person understands what they are doing is wrong, there is an overwhelming, uncontrollable compulsion to commit a criminal act.

In cases involving an insanity defense, there are three possible verdicts: Guilty, where the jury rejects the claim of insanity; guilty, but mentally ill, which doesn't impact the sentence but could affect the services that the defendant receives in the prison system, and not guilty by reason of insanity, in which case the defendant is turned over the jurisdiction of the state mental health system.

Insanity "is not asserted often" in Kalamazoo County criminal cases, Klein said, and "in the cases where it is asserted, it's usually not the verdict that is returned."

On the embezzlement investigation, Goss said that the suspicious charges turned up after Tibbetts' district-owned credit card had been compromised by credit card theft unrelated to Tibbetts.

As district officials were studying the credit card statements to rectify that situation, they discovered suspicious purchases made by Tibbetts.

“During the last several months, multiple purchases approved by Mr. Tibbetts appeared suspicious in nature," Goss said in his written statement. "Digging deeper, the district discovered a possible pattern going back approximately a year where Mr. Tibbetts seemed to have used district and lacrosse team money for personal expenses.”

Goss said the purchases includes gift cards, prepaid cellphones and minutes, clothes and groceries.

One especially suspicious purchase was a surveillance camera disguised as a clock radio. Tibbetts told Goss that he made the purchase to uncover petty theft in the middle school central office and that the camera/clock was returned.

However, the middle-school office staff said they were unaware of a petty theft problem and the vendor who sold the clock said it had not been returned.

Goss said the district anticipates "100 percent recovery" of any money spent on unapproved expenditures, with restitution coming from either Tibbetts or the district's insurance.

Goss said the district also reviewed its controls on the 15 credit cards it issues to employees. He said that the cards are used to streamline "everyday purchases, such as school supplies," and typically two employees are required to sign off on purchases and review monthly statements.

In the case of Tibbetts, Goss said, unbeknownst to central administrators, "he had taken over control of the card and eliminated" the review by the second person.

"It was a situation unique to that individual and that building," Goss said.

In addition, Goss said, the system involves a level of trust that Tibbetts appeared to violate.

"Frankly, he was a highly, highly trusted member of our administration team," Goss said, adding that it goes to show that "trust is no substitute for financial controls."

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