After first denouncing county prosecutors as "idiots," Ventura Community College District Trustee Tom Ely met Thursday for the first time with a deputy district attorney investigating whether Ely misappropriated thousands of dollars in district funds.
Ely, who was accompanied by his wife, Ingrid, and his attorney, James Matthew Farley, spent 2 1/2 hours in the Ventura County Courthouse answering questions from Deputy Dist. Atty. Carol Nelson about an audit of his travel expenses as district trustee.
An independent audit, which was commissioned by the board of trustees of the college district in March, found that Ely had charged more than $8,400 in questionable expenses on business-related trips that he took during the past three years. The audit also listed another $6,978 in claims submitted without proper documentation.
Ely has maintained that the audit is flawed and that he did not violate district travel policy or misuse public funds.
Asked before his meeting with Nelson if he hoped to clear up some of the questions surrounding his district finances, Ely responded, "If the idiots will listen! Up to this point, they haven't listened to anything we've said."
Afterward, Farley said, "I don't think the district attorney has a case. I think they're trying to build a case."
Farley said that he has been a close friend of Ely's for years and that he will represent the trustee from now on in the matter.
"I think the whole thing is nonsense," Farley said. "Mr. Ely has not taken anything from the district that was not approved by the district. He didn't do anything wrong."
Thursday's interview was cut short when a court reporter assigned to take notes during the meeting had to leave unexpectedly, officials said.
Nelson, who refused to comment on the interview, said she planned to wrap up her question-and-answer session with Ely next week. The prosecutor has said that her investigation of Ely should be completed by mid-June.
Ely's troubles began in March when it was revealed that he owed one Nevada casino $3,000, and that he had been sued by another for $8,000 in gambling debts.
The board of trustees commissioned an audit of Ely's financial records after learning of his gambling activities and that he had used his district telephone to call casinos in Nevada.