Sunday, September 13, 2009

California Dept. of Education protected fraud, retaliated against whisteblower

Whistleblower Sues State Over School Fraud
Operators Of Language Schools Stole Millions, Man Says
December 14, 2007

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Auditors found that some locally run language schools were fleecing the State Department of Education out of tens of millions of dollars.

Whistleblowers said top department officials not only looked the other way, but harassed and retaliated against them.

One of the whistleblowers sued the state, which twice appealed and has lost, costing taxpayers millions of dollars.

Efforts to settle the case in Sacramento this week went nowhere, meaning taxpayers may have to foot the bill for a third trial against a former employee who says the state ruined his life.

There are dozens of adult education schools in California teaching recent immigrants to speak English.

They are funded by the state and operated by community-based organizations.

In an investigation that began 12 years ago and is still dragging through the courts today, auditors found widespread fraud involving some schools.

Whistleblower Robert Cervantes said they engaged in flat-out corruption, and yet the public does nothing.

Cervantes, a former high-ranking officer in the Department of Education, said some of the operators of these schools were ripping off millions of taxpayer dollars.

Cervantes said what he and colleagues found the sites of some alleged schools were boarded-up gas stations, empty fields, drug houses and warehouses that were locked. His group found very few facilities that indicated that in fact classes were being conducted.

Cervantes said he and department auditor James Linberg blew the whistle.

Lindberg said if they had stopped it right then, it would have been about $3 million to $4 million.

This tale of intrigue began in the mid-1990s when the state Department of Education directed more than $23 million in federal funding to community-based organizations in California to teach English as a second language to immigrants.

But when Cervantes and Lindberg took a closer look, they found that community-based organizations flat-out told them they didn't have a program. The community-based schools felt totally immune, Cervantes said.

Cervantes said if he had persisted in investigating them and didn't continue funding these operations, they said they would get him. And by getting him, meaning, trying to kill him.

Cervantes said then Superintendent of Education Delaine Eastin and other department supervisors told him it was still his job to get the money out the door. He pointed out to them that this was fraud. They said it didn't matter, then Cervantes indicated he simply wouldn't do that.

Cervantes and Lindberg said the department retaliated, sending them to dead-end jobs where they did nothing for months on end.

The stress took a toll on Lindberg. He suffered two heart attacks.

Lindberg said the first heart attack came shortly after meeting with Eastin when he confronted her with questions such as "Why are you retaliating against me?"

Unable to work, Lindberg sued the department and Eastin. The case went to trial five years ago. A Sacramento jury awarded him a $4.5 million judgement, finding the state and Eastin liable...

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