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D.A. Won't Try Ousted Principal : Investigation: Prosecutors say there is insufficient evidence to prove that Beverly Tietjen is guilty of grand theft.

August 27, 1992|LOIS TIMNICK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

BRENTWOOD — The Los Angeles County district attorney's office will not file charges against ousted Brentwood Science Magnet Principal Beverly Tietjen because there is insufficient evidence to prove that she is guilty of a crime, prosecutors said.

After a yearlong investigation into grand theft allegations, prosecutors said that even though Tietjen could not document her expenditures, they cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that she used school monies for personal gain.

The embattled educator, now principal at Wilshire Crest School, headed Brentwood for 14 years before the school district yanked her from her post last August and reassigned her temporarily to a research job in its adult division 3rd Street Annex downtown. Auditors examining a two-year period had found more than $35,000 in student body funds not properly accounted for and not backed by invoices for supplies and equipment she claimed she bought.

Tietjen wrote checks on the Westside school's student body account to "cash" or "Beverly Tietjen," then cashed or deposited them in her personal bank account, auditors found. "There were no receipts provided that would substantiate that these expenditures were for school purposes," the district attorney's statement said.

Nonetheless, prosecutors declared the investigation closed, saying they do not believe a jury would convict Tietjen after considering "the most plausible, reasonably foreseeable defense inherent in the prosecution evidence . . . that the funds were utilized for school purposes."

But Los Angeles Unified School District Deputy Supt. Sid Thompson said his office will conduct its own investigation. He said Wednesday that he has ordered a full-scale administrative review to determine whether proper policies and procedures for the handling of money were followed, a review he said could not begin while the district attorney's investigation was pending. He said Tietjen was reinstated as a principal, albeit at another school, for legal reasons when it became apparent that the criminal investigation would be lengthy.

He said that the district is "happy that the D.A. found no criminal wrongdoing; after all, she is one of our principals. . . . We will begin our review posthaste."

Tietjen did not return calls from The Times. But her Century City attorney, James C. Chalfant, said he is pleased at the district attorney's decision and will recommend that Tietjen drop plans to sue the district.

"I am hoping that the district will take its cue from the district attorney, acknowledge that they overreacted and let the ball drop. She is very happy in her new job."

He said Tietjen has only a few years before retirement and wants to set up new programs and implement new ideas at Wilshire Crest. "She wants to get them up and running and then retire.

"She was very hurt by what the school district did. It was wrong, bad. But it's water under the bridge."

Chalfant said Tietjen has paid back $6,000 of the more than $35,000 in question. "It is district policy that if you have no receipt, you owe it personally. She knew that. And she wrote out a check for $6,000 before the criminal investigation began."

He said that although the district's concerns about the $35,000 involve "technical issues" and bookkeeping practices, the criminal investigation focused on just under $10,000.

"In some instances we could document what she did with the money; in those we couldn't, we had witnesses," Chalfant said. "The D.A. didn't get bogged down in chasing down the evidence. We showed that when the audit began, she knew the books would be out of balance.

"So she took about $3,500 in petty cash out of the safe, got about $500 back in school lunch money (which she had advanced to teachers) and wrote out a personal check for $6,000.

"When the D.A. found that out, they said, 'That's not criminal behavior.' "

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