Orange County's highest-ranking education official said an alleged kickback scheme involving Southern California coaches and an Orange County athletic supply company is "a serious situation" and plans to discuss the issue with education leaders statewide next month.
"It shouldn't happen. It's taxpayers' money, and in these difficult, challenging times, the last thing we need to see is that money is being misappropriated or misued," said Bill Habermehl, the superintendent of the Orange County Department of Education, in an interview with PBS SoCal.
[See David Nazar's interview with Habermehl on PBS SoCal here.]
Several Orange County school districts are investigating an alleged kickback scheme between Southern California coaches and Laguna Hills-based Lapes Athletic Team Sales. PBS SoCal revealed the alleged scheme earlier this month.
Teresa and Geoff Sando, who took over the now-defunct company from Bill Lapes in 2008, claim to have found documents left behind by Lapes that implicate coaches from 63 high schools in seven counties. They said the documents date from 1992 to 2008.
The Sandos say that so far they've found records of more than $850,000 held in secret accounts labeled "slush" and have records showing personal checks written to coaches from those accounts.
When asked about the vailidity of the couple's records, Habermehl said: "Well obviously there are always two sides to a story — and I need to be fair to the coaches, because I haven't heard from them directly — but what I have seen is enough to make me very, very concerned."
Habermehl added that "everybody feels very comfortable [with] the procedures we have in place. We're doing all the right things."
But transactions "between a coach and a company" don't run through the normal channels to his office, he said. If they had, his office would have caught any irregularities.
Habermehl said his department should facilitate "very candid discussions about the ethics of being a coach" and has asked officials to recommend new procedures for all schools.
He added that he put the issue on the agenda for next month's meeting of county superintendents of education so leaders throughout the state would be aware of potential wrongdoing.
"I was shocked and disappointed," he said. "It's something that as county superintendent of schools — who has oversight responsibility on the budget and working with school districts — it's something I did not want to see."