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Trade Tech foundation director quits

Rhea Chung, who had been on paid leave since January, resigns after an audit raised questions about bonuses and perks she received.

November 06, 2012|By Abby Sewell, Los Angeles Times

The executive director of a community college foundation embroiled in a financial scandal resigned after 10 months on administrative leave.

Rhea Chung, executive director of the Los Angeles Trade Technical College foundation, was placed on paid leave in January after an audit by the college district raised questions about the propriety of some bonuses and perks she received on top of her $113,000 annual salary.

A follow-up audit by the district also raised the possibility that Trade Tech President Roland "Chip" Chapdelaine's signature might have been forged on nearly $100,000 in checks made out to Chung, including a $22,000 annual bonus and $1,500 monthly car allowance not allowed by district policy, and an additional $2,000 a month Chung received for running a youth orchestra.

The audit did not specifically accuse Chung or anyone else of signing Chapdelaine's name.

The Los Angeles County district attorney's office has an ongoing inquiry into the case.

The foundation is a semiautonomous nonprofit, but Chung was an employee of the Los Angeles Community College District. In a resignation letter sent Friday to college district Chancellor Daniel La Vista, Chung said, "I look forward to starting a new chapter in my career" and defended her record at the foundation.

"I worked under the direction of the president of the college and the foundation Board of Directors," she wrote. "All of my activities were approved and were aimed at benefiting the college."

In an emailed response to a Times inquiry, Chung did not elaborate on her reasons for resigning, but said: "I am sad that some persons have made false and scurrilous insinuations without any substantiation or evidence."

Chung has maintained that Chapdelaine was aware of all the payments to her and that she had witnessed him sign some of the contested checks.

Her attorney, Mark Geragos, also argued that the "questionable" checks could have been signed by other college officials who were authorized to sign documents in Chapdelaine's absence. Chapdelaine said no one was authorized to sign his name on checks.

After the scandal broke, former foundation board chairman Darryl Holter resigned and Chapdelaine announced that he would retire at the end of the 2012-13 school year — although faculty leaders called on him to step down sooner.

Faculty and students were incensed that so much money was going to Chung's perks and expenses — including tens of thousands of dollars in golf outings, club memberships and restaurant meals — and to the youth orchestra, when Trade Tech students were struggling to pay for tuition and school supplies.

Scott Svonkin, a member of the district's Board of Trustees, said the board was unable to act sooner because of personnel regulations. But he said that had Chung not resigned, he believed the trustees would have taken action in the near future to decide whether her case warranted termination.

The chairman of the foundation's board, Randall Ely, said the organization had already taken the necessary steps to put checks and balances in place in the wake of the scandal and has continued raising funds to help students.

"We've been moving forward since January, and this doesn't really change anything for us," he said.

Now that Chung has resigned, Ely said, the board will decide whether to hire another full-time executive director.

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