The recent arrest of Carl E. Robinson Sr., president of the Compton Community College Board of Trustees, for allegedly soliciting a bribe has shocked colleagues and left them wondering what effect unfavorable publicity might have on the struggling two-year college.
"This is just incredible," said Trustee Charlie Mae Knight on Tuesday, the day Robinson's March 21 arrest was first reported. "We're working so hard to make that college a credible place," she said, "and we're just heartbroken that any negative news is attached to it, particularly because Carl loves the college so much."
During the last three years, Compton College, a center for numerous community activies, has seen its enrollment drop from 6,500 to 3,800, endured a three-week teachers' strike and borrowed about $1 million from the state to balance its budget.
Trustee Jane Astredo said she hoped a yearlong effort to bolster enrollment is not harmed by the arrest of Robinson, a longtime civic activist in Compton and Carson and a trustee since 1980.
Concerned About College
"It's shocking to see a colleague has been arrested," she said, "but (possible harm to) the college's reputation is probably the thing that has concerned me most.
"We have some problems here, as everybody knows, and the faculty has been working very hard to get new students and retain current ones. This can't help, that's for sure."
Robinson, 50, was arrested by a district attorney's investigator last Thursday in the parking lot of a Wilmington restaurant on suspicion of soliciting and accepting a bribe. District Attorney spokesman Al Albergate said that Robinson allegedly accepted a $500 bribe he had solicited in exchange for his favorable vote at a recent board meeting.
Bribery charges have not been filed against Robinson, said Deputy Dist. Atty. Ed Ferns on Wednesday. Ferns said he is still reviewing the case and, with Robinson free on $3,000 bail, sees no reason to rush the filing.
Arraignment has been set for April 11.
Robinson has denied the charges, saying he accepted the $500 as a contribution for his November re-election campaign.
"It is just a case of entrapment," said Robinson, a former PTA president in Compton who ran unsuccessfully for Carson City Council in 1981 and 1984. "I don't stoop to anything like that. I don't want to talk about it any more. It's embarrassing."
The district attorney's office has declined to discuss the case in detail until charges are filed. But Robinson's attorney, Dudley W. Gray II, and Rolland Boceta, a West Covina-based accountant who paid the alleged bribe, described the series of events in separate interviews.
Boceta, whose firm was unanimously granted a three-year, $92,500 auditing contract by college trustees March 19, maintained that Robinson "was trying to sell his vote" in the days before the trustees decision.
Robinson did not have much clout to sell in this case, however, Boceta said, because Boceta's firm had audited the college's books last year and seemed assured of a new contract after an excellent recommendation from college administrators.
Knight and other college officials confirmed that Boceta was the only auditor considered for the new contract because his services and price were very good.
On the other hand, Gray said that Boceta set up Robinson, who accepted the $500 only "at Boceta's insistence."
"I'm searching my imagination for why," the attorney said. "(Boceta's) contract was a shoo-in, but I'm thinking it might have been some sort of vigilante mentality."
Boceta, whose small firm, Rolland Boceta and Associates, audits the books of 13 Southland school districts, said his first personal contact with Robinson came on Nov. 30, 1984.
Robinson called to ask for a $100 campaign contribution and Boceta agreed to make the payment, the accountant said. "I did not know him until that telephone call," said Boceta. Gray confirmed that the contribution was solicited and accepted.
About two weeks ago, Boceta received a second call from Robinson, the accountant said. Robinson asked for $1,000 and said nothing about it being a campaign contribution, said Boceta. He declined to say if Robinson said the money would be in exchange for his vote on the auditing contract.
"I told him I didn't have $1,000; I'm a poor man," said Boceta. Robinson agreed to accept $500 as a down payment and $500 later, said Boceta.
"I agreed to it, but I did not mail (the money) to him because I knew something was absolutely wrong," said Boceta. " . . . so I went to the district attorney's office for guidance."
D.A Became Involved
A district attorney's spokesman said his office became involved in the case on March 14 or 15 when Boceta contacted them. Boceta said he cooperated completely with investigators.
Gray acknowledged that Robinson did call Boceta about two weeks ago to ask questions about the accountant's new auditing proposal. "But every time thereafter Mr. Boceta made the contacts," offering money and asking about the audit contract, Gray said.
During the next several days, Robinson repeatedly called Boceta to ask about the money, Boceta said. On March 19, the day of the vote, Boceta said he got several calls from the trustee and did return the calls.
Gray insisted, however, that it was Boceta who badgered Robinson about the auditing contract the day of the vote.
Just before the trustees' meeting, "Mr. Robinson got this cloak-and-dagger phone call. Boceta asked, 'If you get my contribution, does that ensure my vote?' Mr. Robinson said it had nothing to do with the vote."
Finally, on March 20, the day after the trustees' vote, Boceta called Robinson to set up a lunch and payment of the $500, Boceta said.
After lunch the next day at a Denny's restaurant in Wilmington, Boceta gave Robinson a white envelope with $500 inside, both sides agree.
"Boceta said things like, 'Can I give you a check or cash,' and Mr. Robinson said, 'It's up to you,' " said Gray. "Boceta said thanks for the vote, and Mr. Robinson said the contribution had nothing to do with the vote and told Boceta to make sure he deducted it on his taxes."
Investigators with video cameras then pulled up in a van and made the arrest, Gray said.