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Campus staffer pleads not guilty to bribes

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A former admissions clerk at Cal State Fullerton pleaded not guilty Friday to taking bribes from four foreign students in exchange for fast-tracking their applications.

Cathleen Louise Smith, 54, of Placentia also pleaded not guilty to taking a bribe from a fifth student to change grades, and to possession of methamphetamine.

The charges stem from an internal investigation by the university that found Smith, whose duties included entering applications in the computer system, used her computer access code to admit the students, allowing them to bypass formal review.

Smith was represented at her arraignment by a public defender who could not be reached after the hearing.

In an interview with The Times after her arrest earlier this year, Smith denied changing grades, saying she didn't know how to do that. She conceded that she had taken $2,000 to speed the admissions of two Kuwaiti brothers but said the young men were academically eligible and that she considered the money a gift.

"I'm sorry that it happened because I had a very good record there, extraordinary performance reviews," Smith said at the time. "I was a very good employee at Cal State Fullerton. I worked there for a very long time for very little money."

Deputy Dist. Atty. Dan Hess said the students, all from Kuwait, made the connection with Smith through older students who had previous contact with Smith. The bribes ranged from $700 to $2,500, he said.

"Once they had the connection, one guy said, 'How about my cousin? How about my brother?' " Hess said.

He declined to name the students involved in the case.

Hess said the two brothers and a third student were enrolled as freshmen last year and again for the current fall semester. A fourth student Smith allegedly took a bribe from had not enrolled, Hess said.

University spokeswoman Paula Selleck said officials were trying to determine whether the students were still enrolled and, if so, whether the school had taken any action against them.

About 4% of Cal State Fullerton's 35,921 undergraduate and graduate students are from outside the United States. International applicants must submit more documentation than U.S. students, and are evaluated on a first-come, first-served basis.

christine.hanley@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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