Ex-Chancellor Convicted of Embezzlement at UCSB

Times Staff Writer

Former UC Santa Barbara Chancellor Robert Huttenback was convicted Friday of embezzling more than $100,000 in university funds and of five counts of income tax evasion in connection with money that was spent on improvements to his home.

Huttenback, who was found not guilty of three counts of insurance fraud and two counts of tax evasion linked to the fraud charges, faces up to eight years in prison.

The former chancellor's wife, Freda, also was found guilty of embezzlement but was acquitted of all other counts. She faces up to five years in prison.

Sentencing is scheduled for Aug. 16 in Santa Barbara County Superior Court here.

"They thought they could use their position for their own gain," Deputy Dist. Atty. Darryl Perlin, who helped prosecute the case, said after the verdict. "We wanted to send a message to other people of their position: If you abuse your position you will be held accountable."

Huttenback looked straight ahead and showed no emotion as the verdicts were read. After the guilty verdict, Freda Huttenback spoke briefly to her husband and looked nervously around the courtroom. Both declined comment to reporters afterward.

Their attorneys, Anthony Murray and Douglas Dalton, sent an associate to the courtroom when the verdicts were read. He also declined comment.

The jury deliberated for six days before returning the verdicts.

Jury foreman Harold Schaff said, "There was so much evidence against him, for us to come out with a not-guilty verdict wouldn't have served justice. We all agreed he just didn't have the authorization to spend the money on his house. . . . There was a lot of testimony that was inconsistent with what Huttenback said."

"Huttenback was an excellent educator and he did a lot of good for the university," added juror Gloria Carrillo, "but we had to overlook that and get to the facts. He embezzled the money and that was it."

Huttenback resigned as chancellor in July, 1986, after controversy erupted over his expenditures on the house. He was succeeded by Barbara Uehling. At the time, he agreed to repay the university $174,000.

Still Teaching

Huttenback remains a tenured professor of history at the campus. A university spokesman said his position will be reviewed as a result of the trial.

The Huttenbacks based their trial defense on the contention that they believed the university funds spent on their home were justified because they frequently used the house for entertaining potential university donors and for recruiting faculty.

To bolster that argument, the defense called as a witness a number of Santa Barbara-area celebrities, including Academy Award-winning composer Elmer Bernstein and food writer Julia Child, who testified that they attended formal dinners at the Huttenbacks' home that attracted potential contributors.

A number of distinguished faculty members, including Nobel Prize-winning physicist J. Robert Schrieffer, also testified about the contributions Huttenback made to the university in terms of improved faculty and increased donations.

"It's an established fact that he took that school and he made it one of the best universities in the nation," Murray said in closing arguments. "He did it by committing himself, committing his wife and by committing the house we've talked about so much."

But the prosecution claimed that Huttenback did not use his home often enough for university business to justify the expenses. And prosecutors contended that he illegally spent the money and kept the expenditures secret to avoid paying taxes on the improvements in 1983, 1984 and 1985.

UC Officials Testify

"It's not a defense that you were a great historian, a great chancellor or that you raised a lot of money," said prosecutor Patrick McKinley in his closing argument.

During the trial the prosecution called seven high-ranking University of California officials, including university President David P. Gardner, former UC President David Saxon and Ronald Brady, a senior vice president of administration.

Both Gardner and Saxon, who retired in 1983, testified that they never authorized Huttenback to spend university funds on his home.

Huttenback testified that he did not think he needed approval from UC officials to spend the money on the home.

A University of California auditor who examined the home expenditures in June, 1986, determined that while Huttenback improperly spent $174,000, there was "no willful intent to deceive or cover up on anyone's part." Huttenback agreed to pay back the money.

A second audit, conducted last year by the state auditor general, concluded that "at least" $271,240 was "inappropriately spent" to "repair, remodel, improve and maintain" Huttenback's personal residence.

Defense lawyer Murray argued that criminal charges never should have been filed because after the UC audit "as far as the university was concerned the case was settled."

"Then it was opened up again for reasons I can't fathom," Murray said. "Whether it was because of ambition or politics. . . . I can't understand it."

But Perlin said the Santa Barbara County Grand Jury requested the initial investigation of the Huttenbacks, he said, not the district attorney's office.

Key Witness

A crucial prosecution witness was Holger Chris Ferdinandson, a former manager of the university's Buildings and Grounds Division, who is serving a four-year sentence in state prison. Ferdinandson was convicted of three counts of embezzlement last year for making kickback arrangements with contractors working on his own house and also of charging some of the work to the university.

Ferdinandson, who arranged much of the work at Huttenback's home, testified that there were repeated cost increases as the work went on.

Murray attacked Ferdinandson's credibility, pointing out that he had served two prison terms in the 1950s for forgery and transporting counterfeiting equipment. He accused Ferdinandson of lying about the Huttenbacks to help the prosecution because he was allowed to plea-bargain last year and get a lighter sentence.

The Huttenbacks were acquitted of insurance fraud and tax evasion charges in connection with an $8,000 payment they received from their insurance company in July, 1983, in compensation for antique silverware they reported stolen. Huttenback testified that two months after the payment their housekeeper found a portion of the silverware and Freda Huttenback informed the insurance company. The Huttenbacks kept the $8,000 because it only represented a partial payment for the stolen silverware.

Flashy Administrator

Brash and flamboyant, Huttenback is credited with stimulating a sharp increase in donations to the university, recruiting nationally respected faculty members and establishing prestigious programs, including the Institute for Theoretical Physics, one of the top physics research centers in the nation.

The number of faculty members who belong to the prestigious National Academy of Sciences or the National Academy of Engineering increased by 10 during his administration. In his first year in office, private donations to UCSB totaled $1.4 million; by his last year, the figure had risen to more than $9 million.

But Huttenback's style prompted criticism by the faculty. There were complaints that he often bypassed the Academic Senate in personnel matters. He also was criticized for promoting academic programs like an advanced institute for the study of food and wine. In April, 1986, nine UC Santa Barbara professors sent a letter to Gardner suggesting that Huttenback resign. And UC Santa Barbara students, by a 3-1 margin, gave Huttenback a no-confidence vote.

As a result of the scandal, the University of California has tightened its internal financial auditing procedures.

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