The Ramsey County Attorney's Office charged a Shakopee accountant Tuesday in connection with an alleged 2022 theft from a Hmong charter school. Credit: Photo illustration: Kim Jackson | Sahan Journal

The Ramsey County Attorney’s Office charged a Shakopee accountant Tuesday in connection with the alleged theft of tens of thousands of dollars from a Hmong charter school in 2022.

Michael Pocrnich, 43, faces one count of theft by swindle. The criminal complaint comes after a Sahan Journal investigation of the alleged theft from Noble Academy, a Brooklyn Park charter school that offers lessons in Hmong language and culture. 

Pocrnich was the founder of The Anton Group, a St. Paul–based accounting firm that in 2022 provided services to at least 34 charter schools—about one in five charter schools statewide. The Anton Group’s other partners dissolved the firm “following allegations of Pocrnich’s fraudulent activity,” according to the criminal complaint. Pocrnich has also faced a civil lawsuit from a partner at The Anton Group, and in May 2023 the Minnesota Board of Accountancy revoked his CPA license.

According to the complaint, in February 2022, Pocrnich transferred $42,500 from Noble Academy into a secret bank account for The Anton Group. Only Pocrnich controlled this account; the other partners believed it was inactive. In March, he transferred $12,000 of those funds to a personal account, it said. He also attempted to transfer $106,071.48 from the school’s building company to The Anton Group’s secret account, according to the charging document. (Ultimately, the complaint said, this transaction was “flagged as fraudulent and voided.”)

According to the complaint, a staff accountant at The Anton Group noticed the transaction for $106,071.48 and requested an invoice. Pocrnich told her to code the transaction as “accounting fees,” the complaint said, but the accountant reported the interaction to another partner at The Anton Group. The partner became suspicious because the accounting firm did not typically process such large transactions, the complaint said. That partner then reviewed Noble Academy’s bank account and identified several other unusual transfers.

When that partner confronted Pocrnich, according to the complaint, he “admitted to taking the money for personal use.” To prevent her from telling anyone, he “offered to split the remaining money,” which she declined, it said. Instead, she reported the matter to the other partners, who also contacted the St. Paul Police Department.

According to the charging document, Pocrnich then attempted to “repay” Noble Academy by transferring $42,500 to the school from a separate account intended to pay for the school building. That is, instead of returning the money he had allegedly taken, he allegedly moved funds from one school account to another.

The other partners of The Anton Group voted to remove Pocrnich as president and place him on leave. In August, they voted to dissolve the firm.

According to the complaint, after the other partners of The Anton Group placed Pocrnich on leave, they gained access to the secret company account and recovered $30,500 of the funds that were allegedly stolen.  Later, it said, Pocrnich returned the remaining $12,000 from his own account, so the school recovered all of the money.

In follow-up meetings with his former partners, the complaint said, Pocrnich “personally addressed each of them begging them not to turn him in to authorities.”

The charge of theft by swindle carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison or $100,000 fine, or both. Pocrnich and a lawyer representing him did not immediately respond to a request for comment. In response to the fraud allegations in the civil lawsuit, Pocrnich invoked his Fifth Amendment rights, which include protection against self-incrimination.

Becky Z. Dernbach is the education reporter for Sahan Journal. Becky graduated from Carleton College in 2008, just in time for the economy to crash. She worked many jobs before going into journalism, including...