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Officials Raid O.C. School District

Times Staff Writer

Orange County district attorney’s investigators raided the Capistrano Unified School District office Monday, seizing at least one computer and reviewing documents in the superintendent’s office. They also handed out grand jury subpoenas to an unspecified number of district employees.

The search follows more than a year of discord in the district, including an unsuccessful attempt to recall its seven trustees as well as allegations of fiscal mismanagement, conflict of interest and other wrongdoing.

School district officials said they had nothing to hide from the investigators.

“We welcome any investigation, and we’re confident it will show the district did nothing wrong,” said Beverly de Nicola, district spokeswoman. “Our mission is educating children, and we’re busy getting ready to open schools.”

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David Larsen, counsel for the school district, declined to comment, referring questions to the district attorney’s office.

Several phone calls to the district attorney’s office were not returned. Investigators, some wearing navy jackets emblazoned with the agency’s name on the back, were seen Monday at the district administrative center.

The 50,000-student district serves a 195-square-mile swath of southern Orange County that encompasses seven cities and unincorporated communities.

It has been shaken by a series of controversies in recent years, including criticisms about the cost of a new $35-million administrative center and the location of a $130-million high school. There also have been allegations of open-meeting-law violations and conflicts of interest between district officials and contractors.

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Additionally, Supt. James Fleming was accused of maintaining an “enemies list” of teachers, parents and others who received pro-recall e-mails. Fleming, who announced his retirement last month, said the list was merely a spreadsheet created by district officials investigating whether their databases had been compromised by computer hackers.

The district attorneys’ investigators arrived at the administration building shortly after 9 a.m. and served officials with a search warrant for the superintendent’s suite, De Nicola said. After clearing district personnel from the area, the investigators seized an Apple computer belonging to Kate McIntyre, assistant to the superintendent, de Nicola said.

Fleming, who is well-known for not being very computer literate, said Monday that he regularly dictated memos and e-mails to McIntyre as well as his receptionist because they type so much faster than he does. E-mails labeled “From the Desk of James A. Fleming” were regularly sent from McIntyre’s e-mail address.

“I use [my computer] rarely,” Fleming said. “I am more of a people person, and I like to get out in the schools and offices. I’m not one to spend a great deal of time sitting in front of a computer.”

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Attempts to reach McIntyre were unsuccessful.

School district officials said they did not know what the investigators were seeking and declined to provide a copy of the search warrant. Investigators “have been very close-mouthed,” said Jeff Bristow, the district’s chief compliance officer.

Bristow also said that subpoenas for the grand jury were handed out to district employees, though he did not know how many.

Nine investigators searched the superintendent’s wing of the administrative center and left at different times, the last three slipping out a side door carrying several brown paper bags and folders shortly after 1 p.m.

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Fleming said district officials received no advance word on the search from prosecutors.

“They simply said they wanted to look through my files,” Fleming said. “My files are open.... Had they requested any documents at all, we would have been very happy to give them up. We intend to fully cooperate with the D.A.'s office and provide any documents they wish and answer any questions, and we look forward to a speedy resolution of the issue.”

Several school board trustees declined to comment or did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Trustee Duane Stiff said, “I have no idea what it was about. The D.A. showed up there, that’s all I know. I have no idea what he did or what his staff did or why they were there or anything else.”

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Recall proponents, who said they had been providing prosecutors with information and documents for a year, were in a jubilant mood, watching the proceedings from the parking lot.

Tom Russell, spokesman for the CUSD Recall Committee, said they had been speaking with investigators from the political crimes and fraud units of the D.A.'s office.


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