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Former Henrico superintendent spent thousands dining out, left tab with taxpayers

Posted at 10:29 PM, Mar 24, 2015
and last updated 2015-03-25 08:43:51-04

HENRICO COUNTY, Va. -- From the Hard Shell, to Lemaire at The Jefferson Hotel, and the Hotel Del Coronado in San Diego, former Henrico Superintendent Doctor Patrick Russo had some expensive meals on the job, and many of those tabs were picked up by county taxpayers.

Russo’s credit card statements chronicle the expenditure of $6,000 at restaurants during his four-year stint as superintendent.

“Those are charges that certainly are worthy of review,” current Henrico School Board Chairman John Montgomery, said.

Supporting documentation for some of the charges shows that Russo had frequent breakfast, lunch and dinner meetings with county and school leaders.

Among those charges, a dinner at Bistro Cassis in Charlottesville, Virginia with the leadership team totaled $270.

And, dinner at Sensi for a leadership team retreat totaling $408 that included a filet mignon entrée for $26.95, veal chops for $29.95, and two walnut lamb chops entrees totally $59.90.

A note on the credit card receipt for the Sensi dinner said the charge would be paid out of an assistant superintendent’s budget.

Montgomery said the board is now taking a hard look at its rules regarding credit cards.

“Undoubtedly we will review the invoices, the expenses, not only of Dr. Russo, but all the senior leadership to make sure we are consistent, and we have a good policy in place,” Montgomery said.

“With Dr. Russo, did you ever have a reason to look at how he was using his credit card?” CBS 6 reporter Melissa Hipolit asked Montgomery.

“No ma`am,” Montgomery answered.

“So you never reviewed it?” Hipolit asked.

“No, ma`am,” Montgomery responded.

For some perspective, CBS 6 requested credit card statements for current Henrico Superintendent Dr. Patrick Kinlaw, Chesterfield Superintendent Dr. Marcus Newsome, and Richmond Superintendent Dr. Dana Bedden.

Kinlaw does not have a county-issued credit card.

Newsome has not charged a single meal to his, and he said he uses personal funds to pay for 100 percent of his meals and for business representatives that he invites to lunch or dinner.

And, Bedden has charged roughly $1,000 to his credit card, but a large chunk of that money went to pay for a lunch for staff members at Huguenot High School who helped moved from the old building to the new building over winter break.

“The behavior that is demonstrated through the use of a corporate card is going to vary from individual to individual,” retired Hanover Superintendent Dr. Stewart Roberson, said.

He added that it is not unusual for superintendents to do business over breakfast, lunch or dinner and use a county-issued credit card.

“The school board is going to place trust in the superintendent to assure he or she is acting in the way that is most appropriate and using the best judgment that they can use,” Dr. Roberson, said.

Montgomery said the Director of Finance for Henrico Public Schools reviews all invoices to determine whether they are bona fide business expenses.

“People might look at this report and think…why were we paying for this guy to go out to dinner with somebody, even it was for school business, at The Hard shell for example, why couldn’t that have been done at Jimmy John’s?” Hipolit asked Montgomery.

“Right, and those are very legitimate questions worth asking, and worth making sure there is a process in place so that the credit cards or the invoices or the checks, however it's been paid, is not misused or abused,” Montgomery responded.

Dr. Russo was making more than $257,000 when he resigned from his post as superintendent in 2013.

The School Board opted not to extend Russo’s contract after requesting the Commonwealth’s Attorney investigate a possible conflict of interest between the school system, and a company owned by a board member’s husband.

Commonwealth’s Attorney Shannon Taylor confirmed to CBS 6 the investigation is ongoing, but she cannot comment on it.