District Attorney reviews athletic spending case

Tameem Seraj

Nearly a year later, an Orange County Sheriff’s Department investigation into spending malpractices by employees of Saddleback College and several other educational institutions throughout Southern California has been handed off to the county District Attorney’s office for review.

“The case is still being reviewed,” said Orange County District Attorney’s Office spokesperson Farrah Emami.

Emami said that if evidence proves a crime was committed, the DA’s office would determine what charges are to be filed and have its own investigation. Or if there is not enough evidence then no charges will be filed.

The South Orange County Community College District conducted an investigation on Saddleback College that cost approximately $20,000, according to district spokesperson Tere Fluegeman in an email.

An unnamed coach and an unnamed athletic department employee from Saddleback were investigated. The coach was exonerated, according to Fluegeman. The employee was disciplined but no specifics were provided because the district cited the confidentiality of personnel matters.

Saddleback Athletic Director Tony Lipold declined to comment citing the confidentiality of personnel matters.

“No money was misappropriated but some procedures and processes were violated, said Fluegeman. “One employee was disciplined for not properly following district policies and procedures but this employee did not receive any personal gain and the situation has been resolved.”

Fluegeman said that all of the money spent by the employee was spent on student needs and athletics. PBS SoCal reported that the total amount that Saddleback College received was $26,272.49.

Fluegeman said the amount was less than PBS SoCal reported.

“The total amount of money spent that did not follow policies and procedures was less than $25,000,” she said.

Records also indicated that coaches from Capistrano Unified received the most money from Lapes. Three coaches were fired, four were disciplined, and three other teachers were not cited.

After acquiring the now defunct Lapes Athletic Team Sales, Irvine investor Teresa Sando and husband Geoff found boxes of old records labeled “slush” in 2008. Lapes fell into bankruptcy the same year. Upon further investigation, the amounts in the “slush” fund totaled around $700,000.

Records provided by the Sandos showed that employees and coaches from schools throughout Southern California, including Saddleback College, received kickbacks from these funds. Coaches were allegedly converting the district funds into personal spending accounts to be used however the coach wanted without any oversight from the district.

According to some independent media investigations such as PBS SoCal and the Orange County Register, some coaches spent funds on personal athletic attire, Christmas gifts, fishing trips, and other improper purchases.

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