Terminated ELAC dean guilty of grand theft

By Juan Calvillo

Terminated East Los Angeles College Dean Paul De La Cerda was found guilty on Friday of grand theft by an employee. This charge filed by the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office is in addition to the original charges of one count of Public Office Embezzling for personal use and one count of grand theft by embezzlement, back in January. A plea deal was offered to De La Cerda in April.

“Counts one and two were dismissed as part of the plea deal. Counts one and two are based [on] the same facts as count three but are merely different penal codes/theories,” Casey Higgins, deputy district attorney, said.

He said this plea deal is similar to the one that was offered to De La Cerda in April. De La Cerda will be placed on two years of felony probation, one day in jail or book and release, and must pay restitution of $1580.45. Higgins said during the two years of probation, the maximum currently allowed, De La Cerda can not hold a government job. Violation of the terms would mean prison time for De La Cerda.

De La Cerda was at the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center, along with his attorney David D. Diamond, to enter a plea of no contest to the charge of penal code 487 (b) grand theft by an employee. Judge Kerry L. White accepted the plea and found the defendant guilty.

De La Cerda was charged with embezzlement while he was the Dean of the ELAC Foundation. The foundation’s website said it is a non-profit that seeks to help students and programs which are unfunded. His services were no longer retained by the Los Angeles Community College District in March of 2021. He was then hired by Cabrillo College after his dismissal from the LACCD and subsequently no longer employed by Cabrillo college in February.

After the verdict defense attorney Diamond said the plea deal was accepted because De La Cerda recognized the length of a trial would only prolong costs and affect his family. He said the case was quite convoluted due to the nature of how the college dealt with expenses incurred by De La Cerda and the process of repaying those costs. 

Diamond said ELAC didn’t give an expense credit card for De La Cerda to use like most other institutions give their people. He said there were also issues with the college’s accounting personnel being currently on leave.

“As we dug into the paperwork of this case and had forensic accountants look at it, it looked like it was just procedural mishaps and not one of any criminal intent. And that’s why we believe the prosecution ultimately made an offer that did not include any jail time and can be reduced to a misdemeanor and ultimately dismissed off his record,” Diamond said.

Higgins said it was important to be completely clear with what the district attorney’s office found in its investigation.

“De La Cerda was charged for overbilling. He doctored hotel billing and invoices. What De La Cerda was charged with was 100% not the fault of his staff. The staff person(s) billed as ordered by him, the boss. This was not an inadvertent overpayment. This was an intentional decision to steal from East Los Angeles College,” Higgins said.

Higgins said the district attorney’s office has the Public Integrity Division to specifically hold those in charge of public funds accountable if they choose to take advantage of the position and power they are given.

“Cases such as this serve to remind those entrusted by the public that we will root out those who abuse that trust,” Higgins said.

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