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Documents Demanded in Westin Investigation

Colleges: Lawyers say papers would prove that the Ventura County chancellor misspent public funds.

September 16, 2002|AMANDA COVARRUBIAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Lawyers have turned up the heat against the Ventura County Community College District, demanding that the board of trustees hand over documents they contend will prove the chancellor misspent hundreds of thousands of dollars in public money.

The letter sent to the board last week also demanded minutes from a private meeting held by the board May 28, which attorneys say will prove the five trustees awarded Chancellor Philip Westin a $30,000-a-year raise, in violation of the Brown Act, the state's open-meetings law.

The request is the latest development in a spending scandal involving Westin, the board and other high-level district officials that has enveloped the community college district since early summer.

The demand by the Quisenberry Law Firm in Los Angeles and Benton, Orr, Duval & Buckingham of Ventura follows a lawsuit filed in July on behalf of plaintiffs Gerald Leavitt and Gerard Kapuscik and Ventura County taxpayers, alleging financial improprieties.

The lawsuit contends Westin's contract should be rescinded because the board discussed and awarded Westin's raise during a meeting closed to the public. The Brown Act requires that discussions regarding salary increases for public officials take place in open forums, the lawsuit states.

The suit also outlines other allegations, among them that Westin and board President Norman Nagel charged the district $3,000 for a trip to Cuba and that Westin charged $1,976 to the district to rent a Pontiac Grand Prix for his personal use in September and October 2001, while paying him for mileage, automobile repairs and other related expenses for his personal vehicles.

It also alleges that Westin was reimbursed $1,600 for an outdoor lighting system purchased for his home and that Westin and Vice Chancellor Michael Gregoryk awarded a $5-million contract to an electrical firm while failing to follow the district's bidding policy.

Westin, who spent $119,000 over four years on car expenses, computer equipment and meals, maintains he did nothing wrong or illegal. He was placed on paid administrative leave in July while the board investigates the latest allegations. Nagel has said he doesn't know when the probe will be concluded.

Trustee Bob Gonzales, the police chief of Santa Paula, said he has no problem releasing the material to the law firms or anyone else.

"I think they have a right to have those documents," Gonzales said. "I think everything they're asking for is something we've already seen. We've had the FBI look at it, the D.A.'s office, and there's nothing illegal. Maybe the taxpayers think they can find something."

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