The chairman of a community college foundation embroiled in a fiscal scandal stepped aside Friday at a meeting during which the foundation's board discussed bringing in a forensic accountant to comb through its books.
The Los Angeles Trade-Technical College Foundation, which raises funds intended to help students at the working-class school, has come under scrutiny over lavish bonuses and expenses paid to the foundation's executive director, Rhea Chung, who is now on administrative leave.
A recent audit by the Los Angeles Community College District raised questions about payments to Chung including a $1,500-a-month car allowance, $22,000 bonus and $22,000 in extra pay for running a youth orchestra, a separate legal entity largely funded by the foundation.
Foundation records also showed that the organization had footed the bill for tens of thousands of dollars in club memberships, restaurant meals and golf fees for Chung, who maintained that the expenditures were all necessary for fundraising.
In a second audit, the district is also probing allegations that college President Roland "Chip" Chapdelaine's signature on some foundation checks may have been forged, a district source said. Chung told the Times that Chapdelaine knew about and approved the payments to her; Chapdelaine insisted he did not. That audit is slated to be completed early next month.
Separately, the Los Angeles County district attorney's office opened an inquiry into an allegation that Chung misappropriated public funds.
The college district's auditors chided the foundation board's chairman, Darryl Holter, for potential conflict of interest, because the foundation paid for the youth orchestra to rent space in his family's building and for his daughter to teach music lessons.
Holter maintained that he had disclosed the arrangements and had not benefited from them, but resigned from the chair position — although not from the board — on Friday.
"I've tried to steer this thing through this difficult period, and it hasn't worked as well as I'd like," Holter told the board. He said later that he had stepped aside to avoid any appearance of conflict of interest.
Treasurer Randall Ely has taken over as interim chairman. Ely said despite the recent problems, the board's volunteer members remain committed to raising funds to help the school.
The foundation is considering replacing its bookkeeping firm and hiring a forensic auditor to determine if funds were misused. It has incurred $7,000 in bills from a public relations consultant hired to do damage control.
The board voted Friday to allocate about $50,000 toward a scholarship program that would give equipment like welding tools and culinary supplies to top students in each department, and another $30,000 to help needy students buy books.
Student and faculty leaders said they were pleased about the aid but remained angry about Chung's pay. Freddie McClain, a sociology professor with 35 years in the district, said he had seen many of his students struggling over the years as they were told that there were no scholarship funds available.
"I'm really incensed and very disappointed in the perks that were allowed to be given to a person in that position," McClain said.