In a memo to Eisenberg, a Turner manager said the trouble began when the college spent more than $50 million to buy land for a new road and worsened when Rocha ordered $53 million in project upgrades. Among other things, according to Turner, Rocha had a five-story building expanded to seven stories, even after being told the college could afford no more than four.
Rocha, who resigned to become president of Pasadena City College as the problem was coming to light, did not return phone calls seeking comment. Through his lawyer, Rocha said he did not approve any project unilaterally and rejected what he said were efforts to blame him for overspending.
College officials say they hope to salvage one of the canceled projects, the parking garage, by selling surplus land to raise money. That way, architectural plans already paid for would not be wasted. If the plan works, the college could cut its overall losses on the abandoned projects from $39 million to $27 million.
"Could it have been a more efficient process?" Eisenberg said. "Of course."
Relatives get jobs
By Eisenberg's account, the program has been "remarkably clean in terms of relationships and ethical behavior and those kinds of things."
But district leaders have not hesitated to help family members land jobs, The Times found.
A niece and nephew of trustee Sylvia Scott-Hayes are among those who benefited.
The niece, Monica Ramirez, sent Eisenberg an e-mail in January 2009 saying, "Sylvia suggested that I contact you." Eisenberg passed her resume to James D. Sohn, then a URS vice president.
"We found her a place on the program," Sohn wrote Eisenberg a few weeks later. "She starts next Monday."
Ramirez, 33, is a project coordinator. Scott-Hayes' nephew, Rick Ramirez, 36, has done public relations work for the program.
Scott-Hayes, a retired state college administrator, said her relatives did not get special treatment. "Whatever I did is what I would do for anybody else who asked me to forward their resume," she said.
College presidents also eased family members onto contractor payrolls. Ernest Moreno, president of East Los Angeles College, asked Pacifica Services Inc., one of the main construction supervisors on the campus, about a job for his son Derek, auditors reported.
Pacifica hired the younger Moreno in 2003 and put him to work on college district projects in 2008. When Tyree Wieder, then interim chancellor of the district, found out, she told Pacifica President Ernest Camacho that she saw "a significant appearance of impropriety by both Ernest Moreno and you."
In a February 2010 letter, she ordered Camacho to remove Derek Moreno from assignments under his father's purview and to let her know if any other district staff members approached him about jobs for family members.
Camacho replied that Derek Moreno, an engineer, "was hired on his own merit" and worked on Pacifica projects at schools other than East L.A.
Neither Camacho nor Derek Moreno responded to requests for comment.
Moreno's father said in a statement: "I never used any influence to obtain employment for my son Derek."
A similar case arose at West L.A. College. When he was president, Mark Rocha helped his wife land a job with the construction program. In an interview last year, Rocha recalled telling Eisenberg: "Hey, my wife is looking for a job. Is there anyone you know of you could refer her to?"
With a plug from the district, Rocha's wife, Nancy Rosenberg, 45, was hired as a construction manager by Jacobs Facilities Inc., a contractor at East L.A. College.
Notwithstanding his conversation with Eisenberg, Rocha said he "used no influence whatsoever to get my wife a job at Jacobs."
His wife referred inquiries to a Jacobs spokeswoman, who did not respond to requests for comment.
At Mission College in Sylmar, Gateway Science & Engineering, the contractor overseeing construction on the campus, hired a young man named Keith Hoefel as an intern. His mother, Karen, was then a college vice president who oversaw Gateway's work.
Karen Hoefel said she did not ask Gateway to hire her son. Keith Hoefel did not respond to requests for comment.
Illegal spending found
After Times reporters began asking questions about waste, construction errors and other problems, the trustees in November 2009 commissioned a special audit of the program by a management consulting firm, Capstone Advisory Group LLC.
Mona Field, then president of the Board of Trustees, worried about potential fallout from hiring an investigator as well-qualified as Capstone's chief auditor.
"The resume looks like overkill," Field wrote in an October 2009 e-mail to the district's interim chancellor. "Won't people believe that we suspect MAJOR fraud if we hire someone like her?"
The district has kept Capstone's findings secret, releasing only its March 2010 recommendations.
But it did follow Capstone's advice to create a whistle-blower program and a position of inspector general to investigate allegations of waste and corruption.