A new report released Thursday says Gov. Tim Walz’s office “departed from its Standard Operating Procedure” when it appointed Erin Dupree to lead the new Office of Cannabis Management last September.
Dupree resigned after just one day as media reports revealed that she was allegedly selling illegal products at a hemp shop in Apple Valley and had outstanding debts related to federal tax liens amounting in tens of thousands of dollars.
In the role, Dupree was to be tasked with standing up the regulatory agency for Minnesota’s new recreational marijuana market.
“The Office of the Governor and Lieutenant Governor departed from its Standard Operating Procedure for Executive Director Appointments in its process for selecting Erin Dupree as the Director of the Office of Cannabis Management. Three differences from the Standard Operating Procedure, in particular — all related to the background check — contributed to Governor Walz appointing Ms. Dupree as Director of the Office of Cannabis Management without having full and complete information,” Thursday’s report from the Office of the Legislative Auditor (OLA) says.
Specifically, the report says the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) conducted Dupree’s background check without the involvement of its Alcohol and Gambling Enforcement Division, which was typically involved in these cases.
Additionally, neither the BCA nor the governor’s office notified the Department of Revenue about the need to conduct a background check of Dupree.
“This is in contrast to the office’s Standard Operating Procedure, which directs the Governor’s Office to send the signed release forms directly to the Department of Revenue,” the report says.
“Among other things, BCA’s background check included a review of criminal history, driving records, civil judgments, and employment history. It also included a review of credit reports and net worth. It did not include a review of all information maintained by the Department of Revenue. As a result, the BCA background check did not identify any unpaid tax liens,” it adds.
Finally, the report says the governor’s office relied on a “summary background report,” rather than waiting to view the full background report on Dupree. The summary report “stated that the candidate did not have any noteworthy financial obligations or debts.”
“Staff from the Governor’s Office did not realize that BCA had not reviewed Department of Revenue information until they reviewed BCA’s full background report, which was produced on October 4, 2023 — after Ms. Dupree had stepped down from the position. The full background report identified what information the agency reviewed as part of its background check,” the OLA report explains.
“A close examination of this report would have revealed that the BCA did not review information maintained by the Department of Revenue; it also would have revealed that the summary report did not include all relevant information from the full report,” it says.
According to the OLA report, the governor’s office said it has “always relied on the summary report prepared by agency staff” and considered this “a reasonable approach that relied on agency staff expertise.”
Going forward, the OLA advised the governor’s office to ensure that background checks of high-level appointees include a review of tax information, criminal history records, and outstanding court judgments.
“The Governor should wait to make an appointment to a sensitive position until the Office of the Governor and Lieutenant Governor has reviewed the complete background check report and made an independent determination of the suitability of the candidate for the position,” the report concludes.
Mary Fee, general counsel in Walz’s office, called the process of hiring a director for the new office “rigorous” and “intensive,” but acknowledged that “there were several issues identified subsequently that were not included in the BCA review, and the Office was unaware that it lacked full information.”
“Immediately following the DOCM appointment, the Governor’s Office reviewed its processes and implemented changes, including, among others, the recommendations listed in your memorandum,” she wrote in a letter accompanying the report.