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Accused Santa Ana Trustees Cleared

Schools: The Orange County D.A.'s office and a separate investigator both find no evidence of bribery or conflict of interest in the awarding of construction money.

September 19, 2002|DANIEL YI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Two separate investigations into allegations that Santa Ana school trustees played political favorites in awarding millions of dollars in school construction money have found no evidence of criminal wrongdoing.

The accusations, contained in an anonymous letter sent to Santa Ana school officials in March, were forwarded to the Orange County district attorney's office. Santa Ana Unified School District Supt. Al Mijares also hired an outside attorney to conduct a separate probe. Both concluded there was no indication of illegal acts.

"Our investigation did not establish any evidence of bribery nor conflict of interest," Senior Deputy Dist. Atty. Thomas Crofoot said in an Aug. 27 letter to a trustee. "No one interviewed during this investigation was able to point to any firsthand information that would indicate criminal wrongdoing on the part of any of the board members."

Mijares said Wednesday that the outside law firm reached a similar conclusion, which was presented to the five-member Board of Trustees in a closed session Tuesday.

The anonymous letter, by someone claiming to be a district employee, alleged "blatant corruption" by some trustees, including the board's president, but was short on details and names.

John Palacio, the current board president, declined to comment in detail Wednesday.

The letter has rattled nerves in Orange County's largest and severely overcrowded school district as it moves toward what is likely to be a hotly contested board election in November. The pace of construction in the district is expected to be an issue. Santa Ana passed Measure C, a $145-million school construction bond, in 1999, and has applied for an additional $185 million in state funds.

The letter accused "certain board members" of awarding construction oversight to Del Terra Real Estates Services Inc. based more on the Los Angeles firm's connection to some trustees rather than its qualifications.

The letter praised trustee and former board president Nadia Maria Davis but accused Palacio of issuing orders to staff members without approval or knowledge of other trustees, among other things. Davis and Palacio are up for reelection on Nov. 5.

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