The Orange County Sheriff’s Department expects to open a formal investigation into allegations that some high school and college coaches received personal checks as kickbacks from a sporting goods company and maintained accounts unknownn to their districts, according to a sheriff’s spokesman.

(Click here to see PBS SoCal’s story that aired Thursday)

The investigation follows a request from Bill Habermehl, Orange County superintendent of schools .

Habermehl sent a letter on Tuesday to Sheriff Sandra Hutchens asking her department to “thoroughly investigate” the allegations of wrongdoing and complete the investigation “as soon as possible.”

In response to the letter, the department has assigned a special investigator to look into the allegations, said sheriff’s spokesman Jim Amormino.

Habermehl’s request came after an Irvine couple provided him with a detailed list of what they say were off-the-books accounts held by coaches outside of district oversight, as well as company checks written to coaches.

Geoff and Teresa Sando, who acquired Lapes Athletic Team Sales as it was going out of business, say the company orchestrated a kickback scheme with coaches across Southern California from 1992 until it closed in 2008.

The Sandos say school districts were not aware of slush funds used by the company’s former owner, Bill Lapes, to reward coaches for their business.

The couple has cancelled checks showing thousands of dollars in payments from the company to some of the coaches and equipment managers they say maintained these accounts.

Personal checks to Bob Parker, a former equipment manager at Capistrano Valley High School, and his family total more than $18,000, according to the Sandos.

The Sandos also say checks to Mike Milner, a former football coach at El Toro High School, and his wife total more than $6,000. Milner is now on the coaching staff at Mission Viejo High School, according to the school booster club’s website.

Neither Parker nor Milner could be reached for comment.

Checks to Eric Patton, San Clemente High School head football coach, his family and his assistant coaches received nearly $10,000, the Sandos say.

During a sworn deposition in 2009, Patton said he told Lapes who should receive checks and he did not report the payments to his district or the California Interscholastic Federation.

When asked last month about the checks to coaches, which have his signature on them, Bill Lapes said he didn’t remember anything about the alleged payments.

The Sandos say they’ve been seeking a criminal investigation of the alleged slush funds and kickbacks for more than three years. Teresa said she first provided evidence to the Sheriff’s Department in 2008 and last July sent to a sheriff’s investigator copies of checks made out to Patton.

Amormino, the sheriff’s department spokesperson, said the agency could not investigate until a district declared they may be a victim of a crime and requested an investigation.

Prior to PBS SoCal contacting school districts in April, Capistrano Unified School District was the only Orange County school district to have opened an investigation, which began last fall.

Many of the Orange County school districts in question have hired a private investigator to conducting internal investigations.

Superintendent Habermehl also said he will be working with districts to design purchasing procedures to ensure proper accounting of district funds.

PBS SoCal will continue to seek interviews with districts, coaches and equipment managers.

Click here to view the Sandos’ list of “slush” account totals.

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