OC Sheriff: Coach Kickbacks Investigation Handed Off to DA

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The Orange County Sheriff’s Department says it has handed off an investigation into an alleged kickback and slush-fund scheme involving local high school coaches and an equipment supplier to District Attorney Tony Rackauckas.

“We finished our investigation and we turned it over to the Orange County District Attorney’s Office for their review,” said Jim Amormino, spokesman for the Sheriff’s Department. The case specifically concerns coaches at Capistrano Unified and Saddleback Valley Unified school districts.

Rackauckas’ office, however, stopped short of saying the case was handed over, instead describing it as “information” for prosecutors to review.

“We’re reviewing all of the information that they submitted,” said Farrah Emami, a DA spokeswoman. Emami declined to reveal what the information includes.

The scandal erupted after an Irvine couple alleged that the coaches were among athletics 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.

A Capistrano Unified School District investigation into the alleged scheme accused three high school football coaches of “accepting bribes, committing theft, circumventing the district’s open bidding requirements, engaging in a conspiracy to defraud the district and misappropriating public funds,” according to termination reports cited by The Orange County Register.

The head coaches — San Clemente’s Eric Patton, Capistrano Valley’s Chi Chi Biehn and Dana Hills’ Brent Melbon — were fired in a unanimous vote by school district trustees last month. The district is also seeking financial restitution.

Patton’s attorney, however, says his client’s actions were legitimate and has accused the district’s investigator of being “an incompetent, belligerent zealot.”

“All monies paid to Dr. Patton’s family member were for legitimate reimbursement and/or for services rendered to the [San Clemente High School football] program,” attorney Eric Hansen wrote in a recent letter to the Capistrano Unified board.

Reacting to the latest development, Teresa Sando said she was “glad” the case was moving forward but is concerned about how long the investigation has taken. She and her husband first contacted the sheriff’s department in August 2008. The statute of limitations for some of the cases is four years, she said.

— NICK GERDA

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