General Crime

San Francisco Unified School District employees facing felony charges alleged scheme of $15 million in public money

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A half-dozen current and former San Francisco Unified School District employees are facing felony charges in an alleged scheme in which prosecutors claim more than $15 million in public money was illegally diverted over a 10-year period.San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon held a news conference this morning to announce the charges against the six employees, who had warrants issued for their arrests on Monday and are expected to turn themselves in on Wednesday.

The employees charged are former associate superintendent Trish Bascom, former senior executive directors Linda Sue Lovelace and Meyla Fatma Ruwin, former principal administrative analyst Lilian Lamorena Capula, former assistant principal Mychel Navales and senior clerk typist Betty Cheuy Wong. Prosecutors said the suspects colluded to divert federal and state grant money into slush fund accounts hidden at private nonprofits and used about $250,000 of it for personal gain, including $12,700 that Lovelace paid to her significant other, Navales, for work that never occurred.

Navales, the former assistant principal of Marina Middle School, was also charged with embezzling $5,800 that was entrusted to her via her position at the school. About $6.7 million of the money in question was spent on actual school programs, albeit improperly, Gascon said. Gascon said the case was “one of the worst kinds of corruption” since it involved public money and occurred “at a time of significant cutbacks” in the school district.

District Superintendent Richard Carranza said, “We are mortified at the thought that trusted employees would conceive of such a scheme” and said district officials immediately notified the district attorney’s office when they learned in 2010 of possible misconduct. Carranza said the allegations came to light when individuals at the nonprofits came forward and said questionable requests were being made by district staff.

The diverted money was supposed to be used for health and safety programs at schools, such as nutrition education or anti-violence efforts, he said. The district is facing a protest later today from its teachers union, United Educators of San Francisco, over layoff notices being sent to some teachers and other school district employees. “Parents and school supporters should be outraged,” union spokesman Matthew Hardy said.

“The $15 million could have gone to eliminating layoffs, lowering class sizes, and providing more services to our students.” Carranza said the diverted grant money could not have been used to stem employee layoffs, but acknowledged it was misused “during one of the periods of greatest distress” financially for the district. Ruwin is on long-term, unpaid leave from the district and Wong is on administrative leave, while the other four suspects are no longer associated with the district, including Bascom, who retired in June 2010, Carranza said.

Gascon said prosecutors are continuing to investigate the case, including looking into whether any of the nonprofits played a role in the scheme. The community-based organizations associated with the funds include the Edgewood Center for Children and Families, Bay Area Community Resources, and the San Francisco School Alliance, according to the district attorney’s office.

Gascon said about $4.7 million of the money has been returned to the district. Bascom faces 94 felony counts, including grand theft, embezzlement, forgery and perjury, and faces a possible sentence of more than 20 years in prison, Gascon said. Lovelace faces 56 similar felony counts while Capuli faces 27, Ruwin faces 16, Navales faces nine and Wong faces three, prosecutors said.

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