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State audit details mismanagement at Compton Community College

Times Staff Writer

In a scathing audit of Compton Community College released Monday, state investigators said they found numerous instances of potential financial fraud, phony student enrollments, missing computer equipment and even the campus auto shop being used for private gain.

The “extraordinary audit” ordered by the state Legislature backs up and expands previous probes that led to the college being taken over by the state in May 2004 and to the school’s loss of academic accreditation last year. The campus became a satellite of El Camino College in Torrance last fall.

State auditors and the investigative firm Kessler International recommended that legal authorities consider possible prosecutions for irregularities found during the 2003-05 period examined in the study. The FBI and Los Angeles County district attorney’s office are looking at the report, several officials said.

A former college trustee, Ignacio Pena, pleaded guilty in 2005 to siphoning more than $1 million in public funds via a dummy organization that enrolled people in sham college courses.

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California Community Colleges Chancellor Marshall “Mark” Drummond said Monday that other criminal indictments were possible.

He estimated that upward of $5 million was stolen from the college during those years, but that there is no way to really know since many documents were destroyed.

In an interview, Drummond stressed that the audit was retroactive and that most of the problems it described have been cleaned up. “The perpetrators of literally everything pointed to there have been dismissed long ago,” he said.

Drummond insisted that the school, under supervision of his office and El Camino, is on its way to a stable administration. And he emphasized that the “vast majority” of faculty and staff employers are honest and cooperated with the probes and rebuilding efforts.

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But in the face of so much uncertainty and scandal over the last several years, the student body has declined by about half to an enrollment of about 3,000, officials said. As a result, the teaching and administrative staff has been cut sharply too.

The audit by the state’s Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team found “significant flaws” in many of the college’s past operations and “many instances of questionable and perceived fraudulent practices.” The 94-page document, however, did not list names.

Among its findings:

* Administrators and teachers enrolled nonexistent students or lied about enrollments to hike funds from the state. In some cases, multiple identification numbers were assigned to the same students and some students were listed as taking the same courses several times. Instructors were scheduled on paper to teach two or more classes slated for the same time periods, the audit found.

* Hundreds of thousands of dollars in classroom rent for nonexistent rooms was paid to off-campus firms, and additional money went to an instructor and his companies to help produce a campus newspaper that was not published, several sources told investigators.

* Large sums were paid without proper documentation to consultants and independent contractors. Among those, programs supposedly geared to recruit students and get them ready for college billed the school for trips to amusement parks and restaurants and bought clothes and shoes.

* “Extremely disorganized” payroll policies allowed one maintenance employee to miss three consecutive months of work and still get paid, and another worker to award herself a 25% raise without approval from bosses. Moonlighting was winked at, such as a campus security officer who appeared to work simultaneously as a police officer in another city.

* More than $571,000 worth of computers, iPods, televisions, cameras and video games were purchased but never showed up in inventories later.

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* A collection of African art that was donated to the school wound up stored in potentially poor conditions off-campus and a few pieces were taken to an employee’s house.

A spokesman for the district attorney said the office had no comment about the report.

Thomas Henry, the special state trustee over the Compton Community College District, described the audit as “a sad commentary as far as I’m concerned. The students and the community were the victims, no question about it.”

He said the college would be studying many of the report’s recommendations to improve safeguards and supervision.

To view a full copy of the audit on the Internet, go to wwwstatic.kern.org/gems/fcmat/compfraud.pdf.

larry.gordon@latimes.com


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