Trustee James (Tom) Ely abused his power as a board member of the Ventura Community College District by spending public money on personal junkets, a county prosecutor told a jury Wednesday during opening statements at the trial of Ely and his wife, Ingrid.
As a trustee, prosecutor Carol Nelson said, Tom Ely should have known better than to use public funds for unnecessary travel. And he broke the law by failing to reimburse the district for travel expenses that he and his wife incurred on numerous trips, Nelson said.
The Elys are charged with conspiring to steal $15,000 in district funds by padding expense accounts between April, 1988, and January, 1990.
Tom Ely's attorney, James Farley, told the Superior Court jury that his client never set out to rob the district. In fact, Farley said, Tom Ely did thousands of hours of volunteer work to improve the college district.
"The evidence will also show that he traveled thousands of miles on behalf of the community college district attending to community college business," Farley said. "Mr. Ely never at any time had any form of criminal intent or at any time attempted to take advantage of this college district in any way.
"All he wanted to do was serve that district and make it a good one."
Farley said Tom Ely acted on the advice of other leaders of the district and district lawyers. He said Ely sometimes paid for the meals of other district officials with the disputed expense money.
During her opening statement, Nelson said Tom Ely was accountable to no one. She also gave the jury two examples of how the Elys allegedly bilked the district out of funds.
In April, 1988, Tom Ely drove to Las Vegas for a convention and then filed an expense report requesting reimbursement for a $138 airplane ticket, $72 for parking his car at Los Angeles International Airport and $68 for taxis in Las Vegas, Nelson said.
In September, 1989, the Elys took a trip financed with district funds to Vancouver, British Columbia, where they went sightseeing for four days before Tom Ely was to attend a convention, the prosecutor said. The Elys charged the district for hotel rooms in Vancouver and nearby Victoria on the same night, Nelson said.
In addition, Nelson told the jurors that Ingrid Ely--a former president of the Moorpark College Alumni Assn.--received a travel advance of $975 from the college to cover her expenses in Vancouver, although they had been paid through her husband's expense account.
As Nelson spoke, Ingrid Ely shook her head.
Afterward, her lawyer, Willard P. Wiksell, told the judge that he would reserve his opening comments until later in the trial.
The trial is expected to resume this morning in Judge Lawrence Storch's courtroom.