Bribery probe rocks Pasadena City College

PCC president says two officials are being investigated, orders audit.

  • Mark Rocha, President of Pasadena City College, speaks at the campus Thursday to inform the public of actions by the Los Angeles County District Attorney's office related to two PCC officials being placed on administrative leave due to a criminal probe.
Mark Rocha, President of Pasadena City College, speaks at the campus Thursday… (Tim Berger / Staff Photographer )
June 09, 2012|By Joe Piasecki, joe.piasecki@latimes.com

Pasadena City College's top financial officer and a college official with a checkered work history were placed on leave this week after the Los Angeles County district attorney's office launched a campus bribery probe.

Investigators seized documents and computers during Thursday morning raids at the homes and offices of PCC Vice President for Administrative Services Richard van Pelt and Facilities Services Supervisor Al Hutchings, said Dave Demerjian, head of the D.A.'s Public Integrity Division.

No charges have been filed against van Pelt or Hutchings. Demerjian said his office is trying to determine whether the pair took illegal payments in exchange for granting contracts in 2011.

Van Pelt has wide-ranging authority over campus finances, developing the college's annual budget, overseeing construction and maintenance of campus facilities, managing payroll and even supervising the school's police department and bookstore, according to school documents. He has worked for the college since 1997.

Hutchings, a former Los Angeles police officer convicted of defrauding his employer, oversaw the work of contractors on campus and conducted reference checks on potential employees. He began work for the school in May 2009.

In a brief statement to the press, college President Mark Rocha said an internal review of the college's books did not indicate any public funds were missing. The school has temporarily turned over financial operations to the Glendora-based accounting firm Vicenti, Lloyd & Stutzman, which will also conduct a forensic audit.

“We cannot let the matter rest here,” said Rocha. “We will also use this as an opportunity to review all of our operations and learn how we can improve oversight.”

Before he was hired at PCC, Hutchings had been ousted from several public agencies over concerns about improper conduct.

Hutchings resigned from his job as a Los Angeles police officer after pleading no contest to charges of fraudulently billing the department for overtime pay. He subsequently had that conviction expunged from public records, according to the Los Angeles Times. He was also fired from teaching at Los Angeles Valley College in 2005 for dishonest conduct, according to the Times.

Hutchings was hired as interim chief of the Maywood Police Department in February 2008, but was forced to step down two weeks later after state officials investigating the department questioned his appointment. Hutchings has said the criminal charges and workplace setbacks were in retaliation for his efforts to weed out corruption.

Van Pelt, as facilities director, headed the college committee that hired Hutchings. That decision was approved by the college board of trustees without discussion on May 20, 2009, as part of the board's consent calendar.

Rocha, who became college president in July 2010, said county authorities first notified him of the bribery probe on May 7.

Pasadena City College has been battered by state funding cuts over the past three years, forcing reductions in class offerings and spurring tensions between instructors and administrators over where the cuts should be implemented.

PCC student government President-elect Simon Fraser said van Pelt's role as architect of the school's budget this year makes the probe all the more alarming.

“Given the state of our budget and the needs of students here, there is dire concern [whether] our finances might be in jeopardy,” said Fraser.

Board President Geoffrey Baum said college trustees have “unequivocal support” for Rocha's calls to conduct a forensic audit and increase fiscal oversight.

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