College System Dean Accused of Embezzling

United Press International

The acting dean of student services and special programs for the California Community Colleges has been arrested on charges of embezzling more than $400,000 through a phony corporation.

State Department of Justice agents arrested Robert Franklin Howard, 42, in the state chancellor's office in downtown Sacramento shortly after 6 p.m. Monday on accusations of grand theft and conflict of interest.

Howard, who is disabled and uses crutches or a wheelchair, was booked into the Sacramento County Jail with bail set at $100,000.

He is accused of authorizing payments of several thousand dollars each month since 1984 to a dummy consulting firm, called McNary & McNary, that was composed of his wife and mother-in-law, said Whitt Murray, special agent with the Justice Department.

Murray said McNary & McNary appeared to have produced no work product during the years it received payments from the state community college system, the largest in the country with 1.3 million students and 106 two-year schools.

The investigation is continuing, Murray said, and there could be further arrests.

Payments were channeled to McNary & McNary through the Yosemite Community College District in Modesto, which kept accurate accounting records and was not responsible for determining whether work had been done by the firm, said David Mertes, chancellor of the community college system.

Mertes, who held a joint news conference today with Murray at the chancellor's office, said Howard's supervisor has been placed on a paid administrative leave pending completion of the investigation.

Howard also is continuing to receive his $51,660 annual salary, Mertes said.

Mertes, who took over the chancellor's job in July, reported to the Justice Department on Sept. 8 that he was troubled by a lack of work performed by McNary & McNary and that the firm seemed virtually unknown.

Mertes praised the Justice Department's Bureau of Investigation for prompt action in the case, but said questions remain over how the alleged embezzlement could have taken place.

Prior to becoming acting dean of student services less than a year ago, Howard was a disabled-student program specialist. He has been employed by the college system since 1979.

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