Reason for coach’s dismissal revealed | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Reason for coach’s dismissal revealed

William Ferchland, Tahoe Daily Tribune

A former Whittell High School cross country coach was accused of inappropriately funneling money into a personal account used for team expenses.

Brian Rippet, 33, was released from his duties as a popular four-year cross country coach after Douglas County authorities found he allegedly instructed students to have contributors make checks payable to “Runner’s High” instead of Whittell for a school fund-raiser.

He remains a science teacher at Whittell.

Rippet, who is charged with misdemeanor theft, is not required to be at Tahoe Township Justice Court on Tuesday but will be represented by his attorney William Cole. The Tuesday hearing, a mandatory settlement conference, will determine the future of his case.

“The basis of this is a misunderstanding over district fund-raising policy as opposed to any allegations that he used any of the funds raised for his personal benefit,” Cole said.

Douglas County sheriff’s Sgt. Tim Minister agreed.

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“He collected contributions from the team and basically set up his own fund so he could (spend) his own money as he saw fit,” Minister said, adding there was “no indication he was converting donations to his own benefit.”

A report from Jason Cypher, a Douglas County sheriff’s investigator, showed there were $2,105 in deposits to the foundation account around September 2002. Cypher determined in his report that $1,847 should have been diverted to the school account for cross country.

In the report, Rippet told Cypher he gave students the option of telling people they could make their checks to the Whittell cross country fund if contributors were uneasy. Rippet said he told students to let people know where the money was going.

Cypher told Rippet he did not have such an option. It is against the law to put money for school events in a place different from the school account, according to Deputy District Attorney Kris Brown.

Whittell High School would not comment. Officials from Douglas County School District could not be reached.

Court records show the money was also used for the payment for 20 pairs of shoes and a September barbecue — all for the team.

Rippet wouldn’t comment if he is seeking his job back but appreciated the support he has been given. He affirmed he wasn’t using the money for his own good.

“No way I personally benefited except to help the kids,” he said.

Rippet also affirmed his past frustrations at not being reimbursed from the school account that he put money in. In addition, he said the school would use excess cross country funds for other purposes by the end of the fiscal year.

Officials learned about the account on Sept. 4 when a student approached a Whittell coach to donate money to “Runner’s High.” The coach had never heard of the foundation and told the head secretary. A couple of days later another person wanted to donate money to an unknown fund and Brian Mehrer, the athletic director, was contacted.

On Sept. 11, Rippet, Mehrer and Principal Mario Gatto met. The two administrators asked for the name on the account and Rippet refused to answer, according to documents.

About the same time Rippet e-mailed Rich Alexander, assistant superintendent for human resources, for advice.

“I am trying to do this the ‘right way,'” Rippet wrote. “I know there are organizations/teams that have truly ‘secret’ accounts, or simply stash the cash they raise and never deposit it into the school account. I wanted to avoid any impropriety, but it looks like I’m doing something wrong.”

Alexander returned the e-mail.

“Since the foundation you have formed has a direct relationship to your work as a cross country coach, you will need to be particularly diligent in avoiding even the appearance of any impropriety when it comes to dealing with funds from the foundation,” Alexander wrote.

The assistant superintendent then wrote several suggestions, such as not limiting membership to Whittell cross country students, not showing any affiliation to Whittell and not using any school equipment for foundation activities.

At an October meeting between law enforcement and school district officials, Alexander said there was no intention to fire Rippet but requested an investigation into the activities of the foundation. He also asked that the district be reimbursed, court records show.

Once Rippet knew the school district was looking into the foundation, he had parents write new checks to the school or gave them their cash back, court records showed.

About $350 was still owed to the school at the end of November. It is not known if the money has been reimbursed.

— E-mail William Ferchland at wferchland@tahoedailytribune.com

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