Former U administrator to be tried for theft, swindling

Dan Haugen

The trial of a former University employee accused of swindling $46,000 worth of equipment begins Monday.

In December, Hennepin County prosecutors filed three theft charges and three theft-by-swindle charges against Keith Passow for allegedly using University funds to purchase two lawn tractors, several accessories and other items for personal use.

Passow was fired in March 2002 for inappropriately using a University parking permit for personal use.

It was not until two weeks after Passow was terminated – nearly two years since the first of his allegedly inappropriate purchases – that Facilities Management staff discovered the suspicious purchasing orders.

According to an internal investigation report, Passow used the University’s automated financial management system to purchase the equipment.

As a facilities manager, Passow was authorized to approve purchases up to $10,000. The audit report says “it appears as if some of the

tractor purchases made using the financial system were split to avoid additional oversight that would accompany purchases in excess of $10,000.”

Some equipment was identified on the purchasing order as services instead of goods, making them more likely to be missed during regular inventories.

“It appears that the former employee was able to circumvent several controls,” a January audit report says.

Neither Passow nor his attorney returned phone calls this week.

If convicted, Passow faces up to one year in prison.

Hennepin County Court records show Passow had pleaded guilty to a felony theft charge in 1983, nine years before the University hired him as an operations supervisor.

Norma Peterson, director of the University’s Human Resources Job Center, said having a criminal history does not automatically disqualify applicants for most University positions.

“When you get into these areas, there’s a lot of discretion used,” Peterson said.

The nature of both the job and crime, as well as how old the conviction is, are factors in hiring, she said.

Facilities Management began screening all new employees for criminal histories in 1996, four years after it hired Passow.

Facilities Management employees contacted this week either declined to comment for this story or did not return phone calls.

Passow’s 2002 termination was not the first time he was disciplined by the institution.

In 1996, he was given a one-day, unpaid suspension for “potentially harassing behavior” following an investigation into personal use of his office’s computers.

“During the investigation you admitted that joking of a sexual nature occurs within the zone office and that you permit this behavior,” Facilities Management director Eric Kruse wrote in a letter to Passow on Dec. 3, 1996. “You also stated that you are aware that not everyone in the office is comfortable with this behavior, but you allow it to continue. Additionally, the investigation revealed that you not only permit this behavior but that you are also a participant.”