Former ELAC dean pleads not guilty to embezzlement charges

By Juan Calvillo

Former East Los Angeles College Dean Paul De La Cerda’s attorney pleaded not guilty Friday to charges filed against him by the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office. Court documents show De La Cerda is charged with two felony counts. 

There is one count of public office embezzling for personal use and one count of grand theft by embezzlement.

Deputy District Attorney Casey Higgins said the arraignment was just the beginning of the judicial process. Higgins said this allowed for De La Cerda’s defense team, headed by attorney David D. Diamond, to have access to the evidence against De La Cerda.

“Both my client and I are going to begin reviewing the evidence in this case to efficiently prepare our defense,” Diamond said.

Higgins said he didn’t want to say much to sway opinion, but that the district attorney’s office does not charge people without reason.

“I want to begin by stating that, regardless of the amount of evidence collected or charges filed, every defendant is presumed innocent until they are found guilty by a trier of fact,” Higgins said.

Higgins said there are multiple points that deputy district attorneys address before filing charges. Some of the points include sufficient admissible evidence of the elements of the crime and sufficient admissible evidence of identity of the perpetrator being charged.

The count of public office embezzling for personal use carries a charge range of two to four years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine. The count of grand theft by embezzlement has a charge range of up to three years and up to a $10,000 fine.

De La Cerda did not show up in person for his arraignment. Higgins said it has become normal for certain people to not come in person for this first meeting. He said penal code 977 allows for a defendant to waive their appearance, and with COVID-19 and the changing policies of both state and county court systems, this happens sometimes. 

Diamond appeared online representing De La Cerda and asked for a preliminary hearing setting date of February 17. Higgins said this means a preliminary hearing will occur within 30 days of that date unless time is waived by De La Cerda and his attorney.

The felony complaints against De La Cerda alleged that he misused funds while he was dean of the ELAC Foundation. Mark A. Manskar, the Sheriff’s detective on the case, said the investigation is complete. The complaints were filed Dec. 8.

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