A California Community Colleges official used accounts at three or more local districts, including one in Orange County, to funnel at least $900,000 earmarked for disabled students to a bogus consulting firm, authorities allege.
Robert F. Howard, acting dean of student services and special programs statewide, allegedly embezzled the funds through accounts he supervised at Yosemite, Foothill-De Anza and North Orange County community college districts, according to Special Agent Whitt Murray of the state Department of Justice.
However, employees at the districts appear not to have known that the checks were being sent to a firm established by Howard’s wife and mother-in-law, Murray said. The districts acted as fiscal agents for various statewide programs and did not lose any of their own funds.
Investigators found five checks totaling $40,023 made out to the firm of McNary & McNary or Pamela McNary, the maiden name of Howard’s wife, that were processed for the state system in 1981-83 by the North Orange County Community College District, officials said. The rest of the estimated $900,000 came through the Yosemite district in Modesto and Foothill-De Anza in the Bay Area.
“The state community colleges system often asks a community college district to be the fiscal agent for some project the state or federal government is funding. Our people in North Orange County Community College District simply processed checks drawn against the fund for a learning disabilities project,” said Donna Hatchett, director of communication for the Fullerton-based North Orange County Community College District.
Howard was arrested Monday on grand theft and conflict-of-interest charges. One or two more arrests may be made next week, and authorities are looking at the payment records of other districts, Murray said.