The FBI interviewed Beaufort County School District’s former procurement coordinator earlier this year as part of its ongoing investigation into the district’s former superintendent and the construction of two Bluffton schools, according to district emails obtained by The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette on Monday evening.
Sandra Amsler, who retired in January, is at least the fourth district administrator known to have been contacted by the FBI since the district was notified in December 2017 of the investigation.
Though not much is known about the investigation, the FBI appears to be looking into the procurement process used during the construction of May River High School and River Ridge Academy, as well as former superintendent Jeff Moss’ association with a North Carolina-based architect and a controversial organization that brings together education vendors and school superintendents.
Amsler was interviewed by the agency in January or February of this year, according to a June 18 email from former interim superintendent Herbert Berg to the Board of Education and incoming superintendent Frank Rodriguez.
“We, the district responded with subpoenaed documents on Sept. 11, 2018. You have that subpoena. That was our last FBI contact,” Berg wrote in the email. “A retired employee (Ms. Amsler) did meet them in Jan or February…. We have no information on that meeting.”
Attempts by the Packet and the Gazette to reach Amsler via phone and email Tuesday were unsuccessful.
At least four subpoenas have been issued by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in South Carolina in relation to the investigation, including to the school district itself, chief of operations Robert Oetting, chief financial officer Tonya Crosby and former district project manager Anthony Pernice.
The last of these subpoenas was sent in August 2018, and focused on Moss’ five-year tenure with the district and his association with Education Research and Development Institute, an organization that charges vendors to meet with superintendents across the country.
Earlier this summer, U.S. Attorney’s Office District of South Carolina spokesman Lance Crick told the Packet and the Gazette that his office could not comment on the ongoing investigation.
As procurement coordinator, Amsler oversaw competitive bids and contracts for the school district, including consulting positions, construction work and band instrument suppliers.
“They basically keep us on the straight and narrow when it comes to spending,” district spokesman Jim Foster said of the procurement coordinator’s role.
Amsler also had oversight of the procurement card program — also called P-Cards — which has come under fire in recent years after the school district discovered roughly $500 in charges to a Victoria’s Secret from a district-issued credit card.
Those 2015 charges were identified as fraudulent and reimbursed, and have sparked investigation into procurement card use by citizen group CARE.
Amsler had a role in the 2013 selection of Hite Associates to build Bluffton’s May River High School and River Ridge Academy — she coordinated the committee that recommended the firm to Moss and the Board of Education for approval.
The North Carolina-based firm had never built in South Carolina before, but had been used by Moss when Moss was superintendent of Lee County schools in that state.
Over the course of construction, the projects’ estimated costs grew rapidly, from between $35 million and $43 million to $67 million for May River, and from $25.5 million to nearly $32 million for River Ridge.
Both schools are included on the $345 million projects list for November’s referendum, with a combined $26 million slated for their expansion.
The November referendum also includes $71 million to tear down and rebuild Robert Smalls International Academy, which would be the first school constructed since the investigation began.