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D. A. Won't Prosecute Preschool Director

November 20, 1986|DARYL KELLEY | Times Staff Writer

LONG BEACH — The director of the defunct Academia Quinto Sol preschool, whose records were confiscated in a dramatic raid by state agents in 1984, will not be prosecuted for fraud, the district attorney's office has confirmed.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Robert M. Youngdahl, who has directed the investigation since late 1984, said allegations that Academia Executive Director Francisco Sandoval misused $548,000 in state and federal money during an eight-year period could not be proven.

Auditors now estimate that the Academia, which had cared for about 250 mostly low-income Latino youngsters, owes the state as little as $110,000. Almost all the debt was accumulated because of low enrollment during 1976-78 and was declared openly by the preschool, Youngdahl said.

Prosecutors also could not prove informant allegations that Sandoval created a "ghost population" of students or that the preschool fraudulently collected state money for children who were no longer enrolled or did not attend, Youngdahl said.

'Ghost' Children Alleged

"We have several teacher witnesses who told us there were 'ghost' children and several parents who told us there were ghost children, but with the records we have, we can't confirm that," Youngdahl said.

Academia employees who said they knew about ghost children had no direct knowledge and alleged participants would not cooperate with investigators, the prosecutor said.

Five parents said they were certain their children did not attend school on days for which Academia claimed they were present, Youngdahl said. If true, that would amount to a loss of about $1,000 compared to state grants of between $4 million and $5 million for about the same period, he said.

"Assuming we could prove what these five parents said . . . that would be 0.0008% of all the children hours for all the years . . . Then you have the problem of memory. I'd hate to go to trial with just that."

Also, there was no evidence that Sandoval or his employees enriched themselves at the expense of the youngsters, said Youngdahl, a 19-year prosecutor who added that the Academia allegations were the "most investigated" of any case he has handled.

"It is a fact that the Academia was providing excellent programs. These programs had no hint of skimming or of people driving Cadillacs," he said.

May End Investigation

Youngdahl's findings may end the investigation of Sandoval, 44, a former California State University, Long Beach, professor of Mexican-American Studies, who began directing the Academia program in 1974, when it was called the Escuela de la Raza.

"We put great weight in Mr. Youngdahl's recommendation," said Robert A. Cervantes, director of the Child Development Division in the state Department of Education, which funded the Academia program.

Still, the case will be reviewed by a state attorney to see if civil action to attempt to recover the owed $110,000 is warranted, Cervantes said. Criminal prosecution is unlikely, he said.

Sandoval, whose program lost its $940,000 state grant in June, 1984--2 1/2 months after armed state agents carted off a truckload of school records--said in an interview this week that he never expected charges would be filed.

The state's criminal case relied heavily on statements of a fired employee and a bookkeeper who, after leaving Academia, went to work for the rival East Long Beach Neighborhood Center, Sandoval said.

Ownership of Church

The Academia and the rival neighborhood center, once part of the same organization, have been engaged since 1982 in a legal battle for ownership of the church that housed the Academia preschool until July, 1985. (The Academia operated a private program for about 50 preschool children for a year after the state refused to renew its grant in 1984. The court then ruled for the Neighborhood Center and ordered Academia's eviction.)

"We believe the crux of the whole problem has been the litigation over that property," Sandoval said. "Somebody had a vendetta against me because of a piece of property and look at what they took down to do it. . . . "

Sandoval said he is considering a lawsuit against Armando Vazquez-Ramos--executive director of the East Long Beach Neighborhood Center, now the Pan-American Community Center--and others "responsible for providing misleading information" to state investigators.

Vazquez-Ramos said Sandoval's charges are ridiculous. "We had absolutely nothing to do with the determination by the state to raid them and to terminate their contract," said Vazquez-Ramos. "This and the property ownership are two separate matters."

Sandoval said he is again seeking a court date to try to wrest ownership of the church building and three adjoining turn-of-the century homes at Cedar Avenue and 7th Street from the Pan-American center. Vazquez-Ramos said Sandoval has previously canceled hearings because he has no case and would be responsible for court costs.

Severe Problems

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