Capistrano Unified Fires Coaches Accused of Kickbacks

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The Capistrano Unified School District fired three of its head high school football coaches Monday amid allegations of a widespread embezzlement and kickback scheme involving athletic staff and a former equipment supplier.

The district’s board voted unanimously to terminate the employment of popular San Clemente head coach Eric Patton as well as Capistrano Valley’s Chi Chi Biehn and Dana Hills’ Brent Melbon. The district is also seeking restitution from the men.

The firings follow an Irvine couple’s allegations that the coaches were among athletic officials at more than 60 high schools and colleges throughout Southern California who participated in an elaborate kickback scheme orchestrated over 16 years by Bill Lapes, owner of a Laguna Hills-based sports apparel and equipment company.

Teresa and Geoff Sando acquired the company, Lapes Athletic Team Sales, in 2008 and obtained hundreds of pages of records that they say show the inner workings of a slush fund scheme. In May, the couple disclosed their findings to PBS SoCal and Voice of OC.

Monday’s firings were the most significant actions taken so far by a school district since the alleged scheme was revealed.

The school board announced their decision after deliberating for 1½ hours behind closed doors. The district wouldn’t identify the employees, citing due process considerations, but retired school administrator Ross Velderrain, who is a friend of Patton’s, confirmed their identities.

The case is under investigation by the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.

Patton’s attorney, Eric Hansen, asserted before the meeting that the district hasn’t followed its own policies in investigating the case. “These people are incompetent and they do not know their own rules that they’re supposed to enforce,” Hansen said.

Teresa Sando, however, described the decision as “the first step towards justice.”

Speaking before the meeting, she said district officials have “a responsibility to safeguard our taxpayer dollars, and that’s part of their duty.”

After the decision was made, Sando added: “They came to the right decision, having looked at all the information [for] all these years,” she said.

— NICK GERDA

 

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