Ex-Principal and Spouse Charged With Theft


A former Hollywood school principal and her husband have been charged with grand theft and misappropriating funds, both felonies, in an alleged scheme to pay him as a “ghost employee” for work that was never done, the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office confirmed Monday.

Gloria E. Mercado, former principal at Le Conte Middle School, and her husband, business consultant Bruce D. Fortine, were each charged on Friday with one count of misappropriation of public funds by a public official and one count of grand theft embezzlement, district attorney’s spokeswoman Victoria Pipkin said.

“Essentially, we are alleging that Gloria Mercado hired her husband . . . and that he did not perform the work for which he was paid,” Pipkin said.


“If convicted, they are both facing four years in state prison.”

Fortine, 61, said the charges were not unexpected because “the district advised us they were taking it forward” to the district attorney for review.

“We weren’t surprised, but we’ve been advised by the district and the attorneys not to make any comment.”

Fortine also said the charges would not prevent the couple from continuing to serve on their respective suburban school boards in the fast-growing Santa Clarita area, where they live.

Fortine is a trustee for the Santa Clarita Community College District, and Mercado, 46, sits on the William S. Hart Union High School District board.

“Innocent until proven guilty,” Fortine said.

In July, when the Los Angeles Unified School District’s auditor forwarded the results of his investigation to the district attorney’s office, Mercado was removed from daily operations at Nimitz Middle School in Huntington Park, where she had become principal.

She was demoted to the status of secondary school teacher, though she was reassigned to a desk job in a downtown office.


Her pay was cut more than 40%, to $57,956.

In earlier interviews with The Times, Mercado and Fortine denied any wrongdoing and said the allegations were part of a teachers union effort to ruin Mercado’s 23-year career.

Specifically, Mercado and Fortine characterized the assertions as retribution against Mercado for helping to prosecute a former union representative at Le Conte for child molestation. That person pleaded guilty to four counts of molestation in 1997 and was sentenced to prison.

Mercado also said that district policy at the time discouraged but did not prohibit administrators from hiring relatives.

“We have no interest in ruining her career,” said Day Higuchi, president of the 40,000-member United Teachers-Los Angeles union.

Mercado and Fortine are scheduled to be arraigned in Los Angeles Municipal Court on Jan. 6.

Mercado was Le Conte’s principal from Aug. 16, 1993, to June 30, 1998.

Records show that during that time, Fortine received $10,600 for serving as an “integration helper” and later as a “school supervision aide.”


The records also show that Fortine received a $1,100 check for helping with overflow parking at Le Conte created by a series of shows by entertainer RuPaul at nearby KTLA-TV studios.

Mercado signed the check, which was drawn on student body funds and dated May 27, 1998, only days before Fortine resigned from his job with the district and the couple got married.

Mercado said she had no discretion with regard to issuing that check because the money was donated by KTLA’s corporate owner for the parking services, which were provided in part after school hours.

Her attorney, Stephen Fleishman, said Monday that he had not seen the charges but was “stunned that there could possibly be any basis for a criminal filing at all, particularly when you take into consideration the fact that these alleged acts of wrongdoing were communicated on Dec. 18 of 1998 to the D.A.’s office.”