A year ago, when business law professor Hal Mintz was struggling to prevent authorities from closing his massage parlor across from City Hall in West Hollywood, his superiors at East Los Angeles College were singing his praises.
In a letter to West Hollywood's Business License Commission, Frank Alderete, the college's vice president for administration, praised Mintz for his integrity and problem-solving ability. Arthur D. Avila, the college president, told the commissioners that Mintz was "one of our most active and distinguished faculty members."
Now, with the chairman of the business department having pleaded no contest on Thursday to conspiracy to maintain a house of prostitution and two counts of state income tax evasion, embarrassed college district officials are singing a different tune.
'Easier Said Than Done'
"There's no shortage of people around here who would like to slam the door shut (on Mintz) real fast," said an official of the Los Angeles County Community College District who did not want to be identified. "But that may be easier said than done."
Faced with criticism from faculty and students who said Mintz has disgraced the college and ought to be removed, district officials say their efforts to oust the 57-year-old educator may be more difficult in the wake of a plea bargain arrangement between Mintz and the district attorney's office.
In exchange for his pleading no contest to the three felonies, prosecutors agreed not to charge Mintz with pimping and pandering, which carry mandatory three-year prison terms upon conviction.
As part of the deal, prosecutors also agreed to recommend five years of formal probation and no more than a year in the County Jail besides whatever fines a judge may impose when Mintz is sentenced in Superior Court on Sept. 26.
Mintz could have faced up to nine years in prison and fines of $50,000.
College district officials had hoped to use a provision of the state Education Code allowing them to automatically suspend Mintz from his $45,000-a-year teaching post had he been charged with either pimping or pandering.
"Unfortunately, the other offenses do not give us that latitude," said Warren Kinsler, general counsel for the college district.
The professor's massage parlor, at 8574 Santa Monica Blvd., was closed in February after authorities said it was being used as a house of prostitution. According to the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, at least 10 women had been arrested for sex-related offenses there since 1984.
Four former masseuses and two former managers of the establishment had agreed to testify against Mintz in return for immunity from prosecution, Deputy Dist. Atty. Eldon Fox said.
Financial Records Seized
The tax evasion charges stem from Mintz's failure to file returns with the state Franchise Tax Board for 1985 and 1986. Fox said that financial records seized at Mintz's home in San Marino showed that he earned at least $200,000 in 1986.
The Internal Revenue Service is conducting its own investigation of Mintz, the prosecutor said.
Calling his client's conduct "innocuous at most," Anthony Glassman, Mintz's attorney, said the professor agreed to the plea bargain only to avoid being suspended from the faculty position he has held for 19 years.
"Our hope is that prior to sentencing we can convince the judge that he is really not guilty and then argue that he should not be suspended from teaching at an administrative hearing that will undoubtedly be initiated by the (college) district," Glassman said.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for the nine-campus community college district said that officials were investigating complaints that Mintz may have violated his contract by frequently missing classes and may have misrepresented the conditions under which he was allowed to take a paid sabbatical in 1985.
But the spokesman, Norm Schneider, indicated that the district may postpone taking action against the professor. "The thinking is that if we don't work cautiously in a situation like this, we may find ourselves with an empty hand," he said.
As revelations about Mintz's recent troubles have become public, both students and faculty at the 16,000-student Monterey Park campus have become critical of the administration's handling of the matter.
"It's a classic case of administrative impotence," said Daniel Fertig, a biology instructor, who said that top officials at the college "have known of (Mintz's) antics for years and have chosen to look the other way."
Several of Mintz's former students complained that the professor was often late for class and sometimes failed to show up.
"I'd say we met for about two hours a month on average," said Fred Brugger, who was in Mintz's business law course last year. "People took his classes for easy A's. I did it because I was carrying a full load and also taking paralegal courses at another school on the side, and I needed the break. But I didn't learn anything."