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Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas will not file charges against former football coaches at Capistrano Unified School District accused of involvement in an alleged slush fund and kickback scheme.
“Based on the evidence submitted to us, we did not feel there was sufficient evidence to prove a criminal case,” DA spokeswoman Farrah Emami told The Orange County Register. “We need to be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a crime occurred.”
The state attorney general’s office also concluded there was insufficient evidence to press criminal charges against Eric Patton, former San Clemente High School head football coach, and other coaches, according to the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.
The decision came after an internal school district investigation found that the coaches violated at least nine state and federal laws. That report was then handed off to the sheriff’s department, which later turned in its findings to the district’s attorney’s office.
DA officials weren’t immediately available for comment Monday afternoon.
Patton’s attorney, Eric Hansen, praised the work of sheriff and district attorney investigators, calling it a “thorough, comprehensive, professional investigation.”
“That’s as close to exoneration [as] Coach Patton’s going to get,” Hansen added.
The announcement, however, was met with skepticism by the couple that first contacted authorities about the alleged scheme.
“I was really surprised,” said Teresa Sando. She added that during the past year, sheriff’s officials have refused to examine the company’s original “slush” records and checks to coaches.
“They won’t meet with us. They never came in a whole year,” said Sando, whose allegations were first published by Voice of OC and aired by PBS SoCal.
Asked about Sando’s concerns, a Sheriff’s Department spokesman said Monday afternoon that he would provide information on Tuesday.
The criminal investigation stemmed from allegations levied by Sando and her husband, Geoff, who took over the now-defunct supplier, Lapes Athletic Team Sales, in 2008.
The couple says that as they were going through the company’s records they found an extensive set of duplicate accounts — referred to in company records as “slush” — that were created for coaches at as many as 60 high schools and colleges throughout Southern California.
A portion of many orders and sometimes the full amount were diverted into the slush or “promo” accounts, and some coaches would file false or “dummy” invoices to their districts, the Sandos assert.
In several cases, the company used the slush funds to write checks worth hundreds of dollars directly to coaches and their family members, according to the documents. In other instances, products that appear to be for personal use were purchased using the funds.
An internal investigation by Capistrano Unified supported many of the Sandos’ allegations.
The investigation found that three of the district’s coaches were involved in “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 a termination report quoted by the Register.
After the internal inquiry, Capistrano Unified’s board of trustees voted unanimously in February to fire Patton and two other coaches: Chi Chi Biehn of Capistrano Valley High School and Brent Melbon of Dana Hills High School.
Patton and Biehn have appealed their terminations, according to the Register.
Patton’s lawyer, meanwhile, calls the district investigation a “sham” and says the company payments to Patton were used to fund equipment for students who couldn’t afford it.
“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,” Hansen wrote in a letter to the Capistrano Unified board.
— NICK GERDA
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