Something similar to this happened at my school, Castle Park Elementary. The PTA president embezzled $20,000 but she wasn't charged. The San Diego DA seems to have a special, and odd, relationship with the south county. (So does the media in San Diego.) Stories about embezzlements in other parts of the county are common, but south country seemed to lie in a zone of silence. But while embarrassing embezzlements weren't allowed to roil the waters of Republican school board members like Cheryl Cox, the DA's Public Integrity Unit has focused on Democratic officials in South County.
Rialto Unified School District Superintendent Harold Cebrun, right, denies any criminal wrongdoing during a school board meeting at Preston Elementary School in Rialto on Aug. 14, 2013. He and Deputy Superintendent James Wallace, left, were placed on paid administrative leave... (Rachel Luna/Staff Photographer)
Rialto Unified superintendent and deputy placed on leave
By Beau Yarbrough
Schools Superintendent Harold Cebrun has been placed on administrative leave in connection with the investigation into a former district accountant accused of embezzling from the district.
The Rialto Unified school board made the decision in closed session at its meeting Wednesday night.
Cebrun’s chief of staff, Assistant Superintendent of Student Services James Wallace, was also placed on administrative leave.
“The superintendent and the deputy superintendent are on administrative leave with pay,” district spokeswoman Syeda Jafri said Thursday. “The board of education will make its recommendation after the conclusion of the investigation.”
The investigation in question revolves around Judith Oakes, the former Rialto Unified accountant recorded on video stuffing school lunch money into her bra. She was arrested on Aug. 7 on suspicion of embezzlement.
Associate Superintendent of Business Services Mohammad Z. Islam was appointed acting superintendent for the district, according to Jafri.
When reached for comment Thursday evening, Cebrun said he agreed with the board’s decision.
“They wanted the investigation to be fair and clean and, especially if I was around, or Jim was around, the public might think it would be tainted in (some) way,” he said. “No one can say I interfered or offered any barriers to them getting what they needed to do.”
The Rialto Police Department, San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools Office and a private investigation firm hired by the Rialto Unified school board are all conducting audits of Rialto Unified’s Nutrition Services Department.
The board expects to receive the audit from Rancho Cucamonga-based Stewart Investigative Services Inc. in time for its Sept. 25 meeting.
“That’s what we’re waiting for, that next report, to guide us in the right direction,” board President Joe Ayala said. “Then we’ll be in a better position to make a decision.”
At the board’s Aug. 14 meeting, Cebrun hotly denied any involvement in Oakes’ alleged crimes.
“I have not violated any district policy,” he said. “I have not committed a crime, been associated with a crime or had knowledge of a crime.”
No charges had been filed against Oakes as of Thursday afternoon.
The board also voted on independent legal counsel for board members behind closed doors.
“On issues where (the school board) may need guidance and advice on legal issues ... if there are attorneys representing the district, there can be a conflict of interest at times, depending on circumstances,” board member Nancy O’Kelley said Thursday. “It’s very common for boards to have separate legal counsel.”
Cebrun’s absence from the district office isn’t new. He’s been out on bereavement leave since Aug. 21, according to Jafri.
Search warrant: Rialto Unified accountant stuffed money in her bra
By Joe Nelson
San Bernardino Sun
A former Rialto Unified School District accountant suspected of stealing thousands of dollars in student lunch money was caught on video surveillance on at least two occasions stuffing large amounts of cash into her bra, according to a search warrant affidavit.
Judith Oakes, 48, resigned from her job as accountant for the school district’s Nutrition Services Department the day after her Aug. 8 arrest on suspicion of grand theft, embezzlement and burglary. Police allege that Oakes had been stealing money from the district since June, possibly longer.
Oakes had worked for the school district for 16 years.
Derek Harris, the school district’s risk manager, called police on Aug. 7 after Oakes’ supervisor, Cindi Stone, told him she saw Oakes on video surveillance on at least two occasions concealing large amounts of cash in her bra, according to the affidavit, filed Wednesday in San Bernardino Superior Court.
Thousands of dollars in student lunch money passed through Oakes’ hands daily as it was collected from district schools and sent to her to inventory and deposit into the district’s bank account. Daily bank deposit slips dating back to June, obtained in the initial stages of the police investigation, noted a discrepancy of $2,000, according to the affidavit.
Oakes had a private office with access to a department-issued desktop computer, according to the search warrant affidavit, but police on Friday said it was premature to suspect Oakes of fudging the Nutrition Services Department’s accounting records.
Rialto police Capt. Randy DeAnda said his team of detectives working the case are awaiting an audit of the Nutrition Services Department from the school district before making that determination.
“We’re hoping to find out if there were any other financial discrepancies,” DeAnda said Friday. “That’s what the forensic audit will reveal — if there are any abnormalities or discrepancies in the accounting in which Judy Oakes would be responsible for.”
The District Attorney’s Office is conducting a forensic audit of its own, and the San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools Office announced this week that it too would be conducting an audit of the school district’s Nutrition Services Department.
Police received authorization from Judge John Tomberlin to search Oakes’ San Bernardino home, the Nutrition Services Department and Oakes’ personal banking records at Arrowhead Credit Union, where, according to the search warrant, she has an account for herself and joint accounts with her two sons.
Oakes had a large amount of cash in her possession the day she was arrested, and a subsequent search of her home turned up more cash and other evidence related to her position with the school district, police said.
Police seized from Arrowhead Credit Union a CD containing Oakes’ financial records that could be useful in their investigation, according to the search warrant affidavit.
A police inventory of what was seized during the search of the school district’s Nutrition Services Department remained under seal with the court.