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Ex-Deputies Charged in Fraud Case

Three Riverside Community College officials manipulated enrollment figures to divert funds, prosecutors allege.

June 13, 2003|Lance Pugmire | Times Staff Writer

Three Riverside Community College administrators were charged Thursday with defrauding the state and college of more than $1 million by manipulating enrollment figures for public safety courses -- including classes at the California Highway Patrol Academy in Sacramento.

The three, all former Riverside County sheriff's deputies, used an intricate contract scheme to divert state funding from the Riverside college and Palo Verde Community College in Blythe to their private "educational consulting" business, prosecutors said.

The Riverside County district attorney filed charges of fraud, embezzlement, grand theft and misappropriation of public funds against William O'Rafferty, Riverside Community College's associate vice president of academic affairs, and two of his assistants: Steven Bailey, the college's dean of public safety, and Robert Curtin, the associate dean of public safety.

Together, the three pocketed $1,029,532 in public money from January 2000 to August 2002, prosecutors allege.

"They all took a significant amount of money from the state for doing very little," said Kevin J. Ruddy, the deputy district attorney prosecuting the case.

O'Rafferty, Bailey and Curtin, described as veteran college employees, have been on unpaid administrative leave since March 7, according to the college's attorney. They are scheduled to be arraigned today at Riverside County Superior Court. Each face a possible maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, Ruddy said.

The three could not be reached for comment Thursday.

According to court records, O'Rafferty told an investigator that he had no criminal intent to defraud the colleges, but said "we exploited the system."

The two colleges have filed civil lawsuits against the three administrators seeking restitution, and the administrators also have sought to block their dismissals.

"We are aware of the action taken by the district attorney's office and will continue to watch the situation closely," Riverside Community College spokesman Jim Parsons said.

O'Rafferty, 43, was a sheriff's sergeant before joining the community college administration. Curtin, 40, and Bailey, 50, had served as deputies.

The alleged scam involved public safety courses at the CHP academy and the Ben Clark Training Center in Riverside. The Riverside Community College accredits the training courses, and students -- many of whom are police, fire and medical personnel -- are supposed to receive college credit for completing the classes, according to a court declaration filed by district attorney's investigator Bruce Bower.

The alleged scam began when O'Rafferty entered into a contract with the assistant superintendent of the Palo Verde Community College, Al Stremble, prosecutors said. Stremble had been directed to increase enrollment, which would bring in additional money. Stremble and O'Rafferty entered into a contract that allowed the Palo Verde college to provide public safety courses at the Clark Training Center, which is operated by the Riverside County Sheriff's Department. Under the agreement, Palo Verde college would give the Riverside college a portion of the additional state money received for increased enrollment.

But the money never went to the Riverside college -- it went to the private consulting firm set up by O'Rafferty, Curtin and Bailey, prosecutors allege.

In a second alleged scam, the three entered into an oral contract with Stremble to credit the Palo Verde college for administering a training class for 147 students at the CHP academy in Sacramento, prosecutors said. The Palo Verde college then paid a portion of the additional state money -- $719,124 -- to the administrators' consulting firm, prosecutors said.

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