The Washington Explorers won’t be impacted by the theft of funds from the group’s account, nor the federal charges against its former supervisor.
That’s according to Washington Police Detective Sgt. Steve Sitzes, who now supervises the group.
Explorer Post 2438, which had been in operation for about 25 years, took a financial hit when Paul Kesterson, former lieutenant, allegedly stole about $1,800 from its coffers.
Kesterson pleaded guilty Monday to the crime in federal court. He is charged with information-access device fraud for stealing $29,000 from the Washington Explorers and the St. Louis Area Law Enforcement Exploring Association (SLALEEA), the group that oversees the Explorer groups throughout the area.
Kesterson was serving as director and is charged with taking the funds from Feb. 1, 2018, to April 2019.
Sitzes said the Washington Explorers have rebounded financially partly by collecting funds owed to the group.
“We are back to square one, where we should be,” he said. “The kids will not miss out on anything — they still will go to the academy like they had planned.”
The Explorers are a subsidiary of the Boy Scouts of America, and each odd-numbered year the St. Louis Area Council sponsors a police academy, which is held at an area university campus specifically for Explorers.
History With Group
Kesterson had been in charge of the Washington Explorers since 2008. He became part of SLALEEA in 2015.
Since 2017, Kesterson handled all of the finances and managed the Explorer Academy training. He was issued a credit and debit card to withdraw funds from the SLALEEA checking account for the benefit of the organization.
An investigation began on Kesterson after the assistant director received a phone call from U.S. Bank regarding a late credit card payment.
Authorities looked into Kesterson’s use of the SLALEEA account, as well as a Washington Police Department’s bank account controlled by Kesterson on behalf of the Explorer association.
Financial records revealed that Kesterson had been using the credit/debit card to make personal purchases. He also was forging the name of a second officer on checks issued by the Bank of Washington, authorities allege.
Kesterson resigned from the department within hours of Chief Ed Menefee becoming aware of the investigation.
For now, only Sitzes and Menefee will be on the Explorer Post 2438 account.
Sitzes added that officers Greg Garrett and Mindy Schmelz have a role within the organization.
There will be no online bank activity permitted for the account. But the higher ranks can view transactions online.
“The command staff can go online to view it only,” Sitzes said. “They can see what money is going where.”
He said there are few expenses for the Explorers, other than an annual barbecue and the academy every two years.
About the Explorers
SLALEEA is comprised of 20 Explorer posts in the St. Louis Area. The association is responsible for the planning and execution of the Explorer Academy, quarterly meetings, additional training, coordination of requests for assistance and communication between the posts in the association.
The goal of the association is to act as a resource for each of the Explorer Posts so they can achieve their goals.
The Washington Police Explorer Post 2438 is made up of 14- to 21-year-olds interested in a career in law enforcement. A requirement to maintain membership is that while in school, they must maintain a minimum grade-point average of 2.0 (C) in order to stay active.
Sitzes said the group averages eight to 10 members, but there have been as many as 16 at one time. There will be six Explorers sent to the academy this July.
The Explorers attend regular meetings held weekly on Sundays. They are trained in all aspects of law enforcement by experienced officers from the Washington force and other certified instructors. This includes how to respond to various calls and how to handle different situations.
The Explorers also are trained in accident investigations, burglaries, domestic disputes, traffic stops, and how to safely arrest a suspect. Explorers ride along with on-duty police officers to gain a firsthand view of the world of police work.
The academy includes instruction in many aspects of law enforcement from a variety of agencies, including the F.B.I., postal inspectors, St. Louis City and County Police, and various bomb squads.
Explorers also can attend a conference that is held in various states where they compete against one another in activities. The Washington Post has traveled and competed against posts from Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Ga., and Flagstaff, Ariz.
The local post has won many awards at these international competitions and it has participated in opening and closing ceremonies.
Throughout the year, the Explorers conduct work detail and fundraisers, such as barbecues, to help with the cost of the academy and competitions.
The Explorers assist police with activities, including traffic direction at parades, counting vehicles and providing other assistance at DWI checkpoints. They also work the grounds at the Washington Town & Country Fair.
The Explorer Post has produced several officers in both military and civilian departments.
Anyone interested in becoming a member can visit the police department at 301 Jefferson St., or call 636-390-1050.