(WBAY) – “Betrayal, disappointment, anger, victimization and disbelief. Just a couple of words that describe how I felt when Kevin Vanden Heuvel admittedly… or admitted to embezzling cash from the DARE parking funds.” Brown County Sheriff John Gossage described his reaction to learning what investigators classify a case of theft by one of their own.
Investigators with the Brown County Sheriff’s Office say three people — Vanden Heuvel, a drug and alcohol abuse counselor and a Brown County employee — were involved in a conspiracy to steal money by printing fake parking passes for Packers games.
The Brown County Sheriff’s Office says Vanden Heuvel — the longtime face of the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) program — stole thousands of dollars by pocketing money from the fake passes. Part of DARE’s funding comes from parking cars at home Packers games.
Charges have been referred to the District Attorney’s Office against the former officer and the two other suspects, who were not named during a news conference Friday morning.
Investigators say the theft may have taken place over the past 4 to 7 years.
Sheriff Gossage said Friday Vanden Heuvel, an honored DARE officer, “tarnished the badge.”
Brown County Captain Jeff Sanborn says the conspiracy was discovered during a Thursday night Packers-Vikings game on October 2, 2014.
Vanden Heuvel and his assistant, the drug and alcohol counselor, were selling passes for $20 to park in the DARE lot, which is right across from Lambeau Field, where K-Mart used to be.
A man who bought a pass decided to leave the lot and turn the pass back in to an officer.
“He says, ‘Here, I’d like to turn this back into your DARE program.’ She says, ‘Would you like your money back, $20 back if you’re not staying?’ He said, ‘No, I’d like to make another donation. If you can sell that again, that’s $20 more to your program.’ She says thank you and he drives away,” Sanborn described. That short exchange helped uncover what they call a “conspiracy of theft.”
The officer noticed the pass was not printed on the same card stock used for the real passes. It was printed on a flimsy piece of paper, according to Capt. Sanborn. She called over a supervisor, and they began checking around.
The next day, investigators went back out to talk with other campers still parked in the DARE lot across from the stadium and discovered many didn’t receive the right number of parking passes for the amount they paid.
“It happened over and over and over as we talked to the campers,” Sanborn said.
Sanborn made contact with a camper who showed him his passes, which were fakes. The camper, a regular at Lambeau Field, was able to identify the person who sold him the passes as Vanden Heuvel’s assistant.
The assistant was interviewed, and he gave investigators information leading to Vanden Heuvel’s involvement. The assistant also held himself accountable for some things that took place.
That night, Sanborn says, Vanden Heuvel showed up at his house.
“I asked him in, and the first thing he starts to do is apologize. He admitted to stealing from the DARE program, from the parking lot. He was extremely upset, apologized over and over.”
Vanden Heuvel, known as “Officer Van” to thousands of kids he’s worked with in schools for 24 years with drug education, was suspended from the sheriff’s office last October during a criminal and internal investigation. He resigned two days later.
How did it go unnoticed?
The sheriff’s office says it’s gone to great lengths trying to ensure something like this couldn’t happen. They change the color of the passes each week and limit access to them. “We count them twice at the sheriff’s office, then we secure them until game day,” Lt. Scott Semb said. And the money is counted under video surveillance.
Sanborn said it went unnoticed because a Brown County employee had been printing extra passes for Vanden Heuvel.
Investigators do not know the exact dollar amount of the money that was embezzled but we do know it’s at least $10,000 based on the limits of the felony theft charge referred to the district attorney.
We’re told Vanden Heuvel turned in about $1,200.
The Wisconsin Department of Revenue is also investigating Vanden Heuvel.
Investigators say all DARE donations are accounted for.
The district attorney’s office is reviewing the case but no charges have been filed yet. The possible felony theft charges come with a maximum penalty of 5 years in prison.
Officials say they’re naming Vanden Heuvel because he’s a public official, but not the other two unless charges are filed.
“We entrusted two highly respected individuals in our community to assist us in these operations — a police officer and drug and alcohol abuse counselor — never believing both would turn to criminal activities,” Sanborn said.
As for the big question of why?
“He did mention he felt entitled,” Sanborn said, “numerous times.”
Investigators acknowledged Friday this theft may still be going on if it weren’t for the one person who was tailgating in the lot last fall who decided to leave early.