GRAND HAVEN, Mich. (WOOD) — A forensic audit report has found that a former Grand Haven Area Public Schools administrator likely stole nearly a million dollars from the district.

The school district announced in November that it would be hiring an independent forensic auditor to fully investigate the embezzlement after its professional accounting firms did not detect the irregularity over seven years. GHAPS hired Plante Moran to conduct the audit. The firm studied GHAPS’s internal operations, controls and staff actions.

The report confirmed that Wheeler had embezzled $944,410 using false invoices to a company called Infinity Electrical, LLC from 2014 to 2021. It also found evidence that he likely embezzled another $150,521.66 in a similar way using an “entity” called Business Office System Support, a release said.

Although the embezzlement went on for seven years, the scheme wasn’t discovered until last November, when the district’s business manager noted irregularities in the district’s spending during an internal review. The money set aside for the technology department was missing, according to investigators.

Investigators said Wheeler faked $7,000 bills to those companies that didn’t exist. School board president Carl Treutler told News 8 on Tuesday it was not “something that a regular audit of a school district would detect … it looked pretty normal.”

“It was an expense that normally is incurred in technology,” Treutler said. “You replace cabling. You revise cabling. You buy things from electric companies and services.”

Wheeler picked up checks from the district and put the money in his own accounts, according to investigators.

“If it’s $5,000, $6,000 a month, that’s pretty normal expenditure for a business of about $80 million,” Treutler said. “It’s not something that was unusual. It was not as if an invoice had been created for $150,000.”

The audit also revealed that Wheeler worked alone within the district. There was no evidence that he colluded with other employees or anyone on the Board of Education.

“Plante Moran concluded that no other district employees at any level were involved in this scheme,” Treutler proclaimed. “None. Probably why it was a secret. Best-kept one.”

Wheeler worked for the district for more than 20 years. Treutler called Wheeler “a trusted employee,” telling News 8, “we did not suspect (Wheeler) of anything.”

“Brian was well-known,” Treutler said. “We had a good amount of confidence in him. We didn’t think this sort of thing would ever happen. But it did.”

“I was shocked,” Treutler added. “A number of people have been shocked.”

Wheeler was placed on administrative leave in November and an internal investigation began. Wheeler did not show up to several investigatory interviews, so he was fired on Nov. 22 and arrested the next day.

Wheeler pleaded no contest on Jan. 24 to charges of embezzling $100,000 or more and using a computer to commit a crime.

He died later that week in the Ottawa County Jail on Jan. 27. The death certificate indicated he died of cardiovascular disease.

Treutler told News 8 that school officials have taken action to prevent this from happening again.

“We certainly have to earn back the trust of the community,” Treutler said.

The district has now implemented stronger vendor verification methods, better safety requirements for contracts and purchase orders, more employee training and consistent documentation of spending. Leadership is also urging the importance of “internal vigilance” among staff, a press release said.

“We’re going to do our best to be vigilant to hold people to their jobs and make sure they’re doing them correctly,” Treutler said. “It certainly is a heightening of our attention to this sort of thing by all employees. If you see something that you don’t think is right, you got to say something.”

GHAPS said it is working to recover as much of embezzled money as possible. Treutler estimated it will be two to three years before it’s clear how much money they’ve recovered.

The district’s insurance policy will cover up to $300,000 for criminal acts by employees. It’s also suing Wheeler’s estate.

“Every day, our staff works so very hard to do what’s right,” Treutler added in a written statement. “That commitment is even stronger now. We know we need to prove ourselves worthy of the community’s trust. One man’s actions broke that trust, but it’s going to take everyone’s efforts to earn it back.”