Most Recent ASB Embezzlement Case Gets Different Response From HUSD

(April 5) HESPERIA—Recent allegations of financial malfeasance at Oak Hills High School have elements in common with an incident more than three years ago at Sultana High School which eventually played a part in the dismissal of the district superintendent.
After what was believed to be a substantial amount of money went missing at Oak Hills High, the San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools invited state auditors to examine the high school’s financial ledgers.
An audit performed by the Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team (FCMAT) of the  bookkeeping and accounting practices of the Oak Hills High School’s Associated Student Body  found not only undeniably inadequate financial accountability but an apparent incident, or perhaps repeated incidents, of fraud and embezzlement.
According to auditors, $130,000 in student funds is missing and the matter is being sent to the district attorney’s office for further determination and perhaps prosecution.
FCMAT’s findings are that the student body’s books are rife with “fraudulent financial statements” together with evidence of “asset misappropriation.
Interim Hesperia Unified School District Superintendent David McLaughlin, said “I can confirm that the district intends to cooperate fully with the proper authorities,” indicating the district will “seek punitive action if, and where, criminal activity took place.”
McLaughlin’s quick move to punt the matter to the district attorney contrasts with the way in which a matter that also involved the disappearance or embezzlement of student funds at Sultana High in 2009 was handled by McLaughlin’s predecessor as superintendent, Mark McKinney.
Both Oak Hills and Sultana are high schools in the Hesperia Unified School District. The 2009 Sultana case involved a somewhat less substantial sum than the one currently involving Oak Hills. McKinney elected to handle that matter administratively rather than allowing the Hesperia School District police force to carry out a full-fledged investigation.
Later, as financial problems beset the district and McKinney moved to shed personnel through a downsizing and layoff process that touched on the function and personnel of the district police force, McKinney in 2011 found himself accused by several district police officers, including the district police chief Mike Graham, of having covered up the embezzlement. A protracted war of words between McKinney and Graham ensued, with Graham being accused of insubordination and then suffering an unceremonious termination. Graham appealed that suspension, but McKinney was backed up by board president Chris Bentley and board members Eric Swanson and Niccole Childs, who sustained Graham’s firing.
Thereafter, Graham sued the district for wrongful termination and Bentley was defeated for reelection last November. In December, a new ruling coalition on the school board formed, including Hardy Black, who had supported Graham against Bentley, Swanson and Childs. Black, with the two board members elected in November, Cody Gregg and Ella Rogers,  fired McKinney in December. Last month, Superior Court Judge John P Vander Feer ruled in Graham’s favor in his wrongful termination suit and ordered him restored as district police chief with back pay.
The documentation of the wrongdoing in the Oak Hills High case was significantly more advanced than in the matter at Sultana High. That documentation was accrued because in 2011 McKinney responded to the Oak Hills case more aggressively than he had at Sultana. The district brought in an independent auditor, who tracked several anomalies in the student body fund account, which consisted of money accrued by the high school’s clubs and organizations. Among the financial irregularities were  late and delinquent deposits and unjustified and undocumented balance write-offs.
The district put a bookkeeper on administrative leave and reassigned the ASB adviser. Upon returning from that administrative leave, the bookkeeper resigned according to FCMAT. The replacement bookkeeper subsequently found negative balances and overall insufficient cash balances for several of the clubs, together with multiple past due bills. At that point, the county superintendent of schools was contacted.

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