On January 29th, the Oregon Government Ethics Commission (OGEC) unanimously held that Oregon City High School Equestrian Coach Angie Wacker violated state law. The Commission found that Wacker used her official position to benefit her own horse boarding and training business, Wacker Performance Horses (WPH). It appears Wacker had also operated this business for over a decade without being registered with the Oregon Secretary of State as required by state law. It wasn’t until August of 2020 that Wacker and her husband registered the business, after the launch of the ethics investigation into Wacker. In a phone call with NW Horse Report, Wacker’s husband Kevin said they didn’t know they had to register with the state as they were dealing with other licensing with Clackamas County. He also denied that the registration and formation of their LLC was due to the investigation into his wife.
The Oregon Secretary of State, Corporations Division, has confirmed that in order to be exempt from registering a tradename, the principles full legal name which means first and last, along with at least middle initial, must be included in the name. That would mean that Wacker simply having her last name is insufficient according to ORS 648.007.
Wacker, who has been the coach for OCHS since 2014, had been receiving payments from both the Oregon City School District and students involved in the school’s OHSET program, all while she failed to file statements of economic interest which are required for coaches who are considered public officials. Wacker now faces up to $20,000 in fines from the State associated with the four different ethics violations she was found to be in violation of.
Ethics Commissioner Sean O’Day, who is also the deputy director of the Oregon Department of Veteran Affairs, said that Wacker’s case had a clear and repeated pattern of “self-dealing,” as reported by Oregon City News.
“We want public officials to be making decisions that are free of any personal interest,” said O’Day. The complaint stated that Wacker “…instituted a ‘pay for play’ system that included charging student-athletes leasing, boarding, and training fees and retaliating against student-athletes who stopped leasing or boarding at WPH.”
Wacker’s attorney, Rachael Bench, asserted to the Commission that her client “has never required or incentivized members of the OHSET team to lease horses from or board at her facility and she has never taken adverse action against a team member for not leasing a Wacker horse or boarding at the facility.” Wacker had also noted that WPH has a number of boarders who are not students or student-athletes. WPH was charging for various fees such as $450 monthly for boarding, as well as trailering fees that ranged between $20 to $50 per trip. According to Athletic Director Andy Jones, he was aware of these fees, although they had not been adopted by the Oregon City School District’s Board of Directors.
The investigations report indicated that once a month, WPH submits an invoice to Oregon City High School’s accounting office, an invoice prepared by Team Advisor Shellie Anderson, who attends practices and keeps attendance sheets. Payment is made to WPH by the District and the fees are deducted from the student-athletes’ accounts at the school. A letter submitted to the Commission by Jill Gibson, the complainant’s attorney, asserted that Wacker “used her official position to advance her private financial interests in violation of ORS 244.0 and ORs 244.120(1)(c).” She further explained that Wacker decided when and how often the Team would practice and where those practices took place.
“Coach Wacker sets the practice requirements for each athlete [who] wanted to compete in a certain [activity], and those athletes must pay Wacker Performance Horses for those mandated practices… The number of required practices [is] totally within Coach Wacker’s discretion and she directly benefit[s] from each practice she requir[s].”
Wacker asserted that arena fees charged by her and WPH were in accordance with OHSET rules so long as the fees are reasonable. However, the Commissions report showed that Wacker is still the decision maker on when practices took place, the decision for practices to happen at WPH’s facilities, and the number of practices to hold, and one that provided a financial benefit to WPH.
In a statement to the Commission, OHSET State Chair Candi Bothum appeared to acknowledged that “OHSET may need to implement new policies and procedures.”
“OHSET is currently reviewing our policies and guidelines to ensure they align with applicable state law so that all of our programs, coaches, and volunteers have a better understanding of their obligations, including disclosure of actual or potential conflicts of interest.” said Bothum in an emailed statement to NW Horse Report.
Parents allege possible check fraud by Wacker
During the course of our own investigating, NW Horse Report was provided evidence, along with allegations by a parent, that alleged Wacker was fraudulently altering checks originally made out to Wacker Performance Horses.
It was suspected that due to Wacker Performance Horses not having been a registered tradename or business until August of 2020, that it could not have had a business back account in order to properly deposit checks written under the “Wacker Performance Horses” tradename in the preceding years. Typically banks require copies of incorporation or tradename documents with the Secretary of State in order to open accounts under a tradename, a step generally necessary to deposit checks in the company name.
One of the parents who provided these checks and other financials to investigators towards the end of the Ethics Commission’s investigation, told NW Horse Report “This was a check written to WPH and altered by [Wacker]” referring to one of the checks provided to NW Horse Report. The individuals name is currently being withheld on the condition of anonymity for fear of potential danger and retribution. It has been confirmed to us that it has been referred to appropriate law enforcement.
This could explain the possibility of Wacker altering a checks by crossing out the business name and placing her own name in order to deposit the checks with US Bank. The checks in question are from 2019 before the business was ever properly registered with the State of Oregon. We reached out again to Wacker and her attorney Rachel Bench for comment about these new allegations and have not heard back.
We spoke to Oregon Government Ethics Commission director, Ronald Bersin, who said that he believes copies of checks may have been provided to investigators towards the end of their investigation, but that any potential issues regarding check/wire fraud would be outside of the scope of the commissions investigative authority and scope. He further said such matters would be for the Oregon DOJ or other law enforcement agency to investigate.
It was confirmed that the school’s payments to WPH from such invoices were indeed made out to “Wacker Performance Horses”, but it could still not be determined how Wacker may have been able to deposit these checks, especially if they were not being altered.
We also asked Bothum if OHSET had any knowledge of the alleged check fraud involving Wacker, which she firmly denied. She did comment that if any such claims were substantiated it could be referred to authorities. “…it could have an impact on any OHSET coach/volunteer’s future with our organization.”
It appeared US Bank to be where Wacker was depositing checks. We also reached out to US Bank Corporate Communications for comment regarding their specific policies both for depositing checks and opening business accounts under a tradename or registered business name. They have responded that they are currently working to provided comment, but have not yet done so at the time of publishing.
Impacts to OHSET & Wacker’s standing
It appeared during the course of the investigation and hearings that arguments where made that the decisions of the commission would impact and harm youth equestrians and OHSET across the state. Director Bersin told NW Horse Report that the Commissions duty is to investigate violations of state ethics laws, but that they “do not write the laws.”
“These ethics rules have been on the books since the 1970’s, this is nothing new.” he said. Bersin further made clear that the Oregon State Ethics Commission is focused on efforts of education and that it had already been expressed to OHSET that they are available to help. That could mean providing advisory opinions and other educational resources to help them form responsible and productive guidelines to avoid other coaches being in the same situation as Wacker.
While OHSET State Chair Bothum was defending Wacker and their organization during the investigation, she did admit that mistakes were made.
“OHSET is appreciated of Ms. Wacker’s many volunteer hours and her commitment to our youth program. However, based upon the Ethics Commission’s ruling, it appears that certain mistakes have been made and we are working to address those issues…” in an email to NW Horse Report. “…although we encourage all coaches, volunteers, and officials to consult their own legal counsel for any specific advice about their own particular circumstances.” further distancing herself and OHSET from Wacker.
It speaking with members of the Ethics Commission, including director Bersin and one of the lead investigators, about equestrians involved with OHSET being upset about the situation, they expressed a similar stance that the equestrian community must realize the issue isn’t simply the fact that a coach is making decisions that most would assume a coach should be making. The issue appears to be when a coach begins to involve their own private commercial business without any proper oversight which could be undertaken with minimal effort.
Bothum provided additional background about OHSET and their response to the Commissions findings.
“We will continue to learn from each challenge and each success. We will continue to provide training to OHSET coaches and volunteers, and seek guidance from outside professionals when appropriate. OHSET’s volunteer coaches, advisors, and leadership are all passionate about, and dedicated to, providing opportunities for student–athletes and to share tools and skills that each student‐athlete may develop and use well into adulthood.” she said.
Each year OHSET supports about 700 student-athletes across Oregon, with approximately 200 volunteers. Additionally they provide for about 40‐50 first year participation scholarships of up to $100, and eight $750 academic scholarships for education at an accredited institution beyond high school (trade school, college, or university). “I think most OHSET districts also provide an annual scholarship or two of lessor amounts to student‐athletes within their district.” said Bothum.
We also asked Bothum how OHSET student-athletes have persevered through the impacts of COVID-19 “Some student‐athletes will attend virtual educational events and opportunities, like the upcoming American Youth Horse Council Symposium.”
Oregon City School District Officials under investigation over alleged mishandling of Wacker case
The first report about the Wacker Investigation from Oregon City News indicated that the Oregon Teacher Standards and Practices Commission (TSPC) is now currently investigating Oregon City Superintendent Larry Didway, OCHS Principal Carey Wilhelm, and Athletic Director Andy Jones, all for their involvement in the alleged mishandling of the Wacker case.
In addition to the financial self-dealing, there are other concerns regarding reporting of student-athlete injuries that stem from Wacker in her position as equestrian coach for OCHS.
Oregon City News will continue to following the story and investigations into other OCSD officials.
Questions remain about Injury Reporting
The Oregon City News story about Wacker covered several incidents regarding injuries and failure by Wacker to report them. When asked about the issues regarding unreported injuries by Wacker, Bothum attempted to put indicate that reporting to the OHSET state officials was not Wackers responsibility as a coach and OHSET member, but instead other school district officials.
Former Oregon City equestrian, Abigail Norton, also released a statement to Oregon City News. She spoke about an incident where she had broken her back after a fall at Wacker’s facility during practice. “When I fell, I didn’t feel capable of getting up; it knocked the wind out of me, and I was in a lot of pain. However, my coach, Angie Wacker, insisted I get up and move out of the arena so that the rest of the team could continue practice. She insisted I brush it off and get back on.” said Norton.
After being taken to the hospital, doctors and nurses were very upset over the incident. Norton explained “The EMTs and nurses scolded my parents for not calling an ambulance. But my parents only did as Angie asked and got me out of the arena. Angie was only concerned about continuing practice and not my safety.”
“Ms. Wacker has indicated she filed the appropriate documentation with her district’s leadership as required by OHSET’s protocols. However, the district leadership apparently did not submit Ms. Wacker’s documentation to OHSET state leadership, and the district leadership could not recall whether they had received the documentation from Ms. Wacker and could not provide it to OHSET state leadership when asked to provide it.” said OHSET state chair Candi Bothum.
Although, Bothum further stated that “OHSET can neither confirm nor deny whether there have been injuries over the last several years that were not reported by Ms. Wacker.”
Statements from Ethics Commissioner
In a more recent meeting held by the OGEC, Nathan Sosa who is one of the commissioners reviewing the Wacker ethics case, outlined concerns saying “I have some concerns in this case about some of the allegations that were made about a coach using her position to put some significant pressure on her students and family to financially benefit themselves.”
In speaking specifically about OHSET Sosa said “That there were no red flags raised is pretty alarming, and that fact that the folks at OHSET [saying] this is just how it’s done, that you have people in these positions who are determining for themselves that they are the best person to fulfill the needs of their students and then in this case arguably putting pressure on them to do so, raises some significant concerns.”
This story was updated on February 19th to provide additional context obtained from officials at the OGEC regarding members of the equestrian community believing this case will devastate the OHSET program, along with details concerning business registration requirements outlined by the Oregon Secretary of State. We also redacted a section due to confusion between OHSET district officials and school district officials that was later clarified by Candi Bothum of OHSET.
This is a ongoing story and we will continue to have additional developments and potential follow-up articles. If you have any information or news tip related to this story you can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at (503) 217-4306.