Former Cal State San Marcos dean now under criminal investigation, university says
Michael Schroder, the former dean of extended studies at Cal State San Marcos who racked up tens of thousands of dollars in improper travel billings, is now under criminal investigation by the San Diego County district attorney’s office, university officials said.
Schroder, who left the campus after the San Diego Union-Tribune disclosed his lavish spending practices in 2019, also is being asked to make restitution for expenses that did not meet university standards, a Cal State San Marcos spokeswoman confirmed.
“Unfortunately I’m not able to provide details on the amount of requested restitution, the time period for which it is sought, or any further information provided to the District Attorney’s Office related to Mr. Schroder due to the criminal investigation that is ongoing,” Margaret Chantung, the school’s chief communications officer, said by email.
“We are fully cooperating with the District Attorney and look forward to the successful completion of the investigation,” she said.
Steve Walker, a spokesman for Dist. Atty. Summer Stephan, said the office does not comment on potential cases.
Schroder could not be reached for comment last week and previously has declined interview requests. The Carlsbad resident opened a consulting practice in February 2020 that specializes in global strategy, according to his profile on the LinkedIn social networking service.
The former dean was one of several Cal State San Marcos administrators who, combined, spent more than $300,000 traveling on university business between 2017 and 2019, the Union-Tribune reported in October 2019.
Documents obtained by the newspaper showed that Schroder, former President Karen Haynes and other university officials stayed at resorts that cost $600 and $700 per night, routinely hired private drivers and billed the school for fine dining and alcohol.
Schroder charged the university for first-class airfare and stays at the Ritz-Carlton, among other luxury hotels.
He also booked stays at resorts that were miles away from destinations he cited as the purpose for his university travel, the Union-Tribune reported. He was particularly fond of the $130 chilled seafood platter at Vigilucci’s in Encinitas, where he dined multiple times, records show.
Soon after taking over for Haynes in July 2019, Cal State San Marcos President Ellen Neufeldt ordered an internal investigation into university travel spending, particularly Schroder’s.
“We have already identified areas for improvement including: limits on travel expenditures related to the cost of hotels and air travel, the frequency of travel, cost of meals and reimbursement of alcohol, and improving documentation requirements,” Neufeldt said in 2019.
In the meantime, the California State University chancellor’s office opened a formal audit of travel spending at San Marcos, although the review was limited only to those expenses incurred by Schroder between July 2017 and June 2019.
The findings, released in February 2020, showed the dean racked up more than $41,000 in unallowable expenses. He also filed dozens of fraudulent claims, submitted duplicate expense reports and collected improper reimbursements, the review showed.
On one day, for example, Schroder attended an NFL game and a Guns N’ Roses concert, billing both events to the university as college business, the audit said.
“We investigated allegations that the dean of extended learning at California State University, San Marcos inappropriately used his expense account for personal meals and events, claimed business expenses for meals with individuals with whom he never met and spent excessively on international travel,” the report stated. “We substantiated all of the allegations.”
The chancellor’s office never explained why the audit was limited to Schroder’s spending. The Union-Tribune previously reported that multiple administrators rented limousines, billed the campus for lavish meals and used university funds for alcohol and other inappropriate purchases.
All of the questionable and fraudulent expenses were approved by other administrators, the Union-Tribune analysis of Cal State San Marcos travel records showed.
Neufeldt said last year that the university’s internal review looked at all travel spending by vice presidents and the president for the 2018-19 year. The study found some procedural violations but no crimes, she said.
“While we discovered instances of travel spending that fell outside CSO policy, we did not find any evidence of fraud,” Neufeldt said at the time.
Schroder was hired in 2011. Part of his job was to boost enrollment numbers for foreign students who might be attracted to the relatively young campus — work that often called for international travel.
Between August 2017 and July 2019, Schroder spent 127 days on the road, visiting Lebanon, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Bahrain, Ireland, Vietnam, Malaysia and other places, university records showed.
He also dined extensively in San Diego County, billing the school for meetings held over meals at pricey restaurants.
Emails released by the university show that Schroder’s personal possessions were boxed up and set aside soon after the chancellor’s office audit was released. He was directed to university police to return equipment and retrieve his personal effects.
“To date we have not heard from you regarding this matter,” a school official wrote to Schroder. “Please let us know as soon as possible when you will be returning the university-owned equipment that you have in your possession as well as picking up your personal property.”
Schroder arranged to return laptops and other property two days later, emails show.
Chantung said Schroder is the only current or former Cal State San Marcos official under criminal investigation by local prosecutors. She also said Schroder is the first administrator in the university’s 32-year history who has been subjected to a restitution demand.
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