Investigator: Professor was key to MiraCosta palm scheme
North County Times
By: DAVID GARRICK
March 12, 2007

OCEANSIDE ---- A MiraCosta College professor falsified payment invoices and
deceived workers compensation investigators as part of an illegal partnership to
grow and sell palm trees on campus, according to confidential documents
obtained by the North County Times.

Horticulture professor Alleen Texeira and fertilizer salesman Jack Wackerman
conspired to use MiraCosta land, water and student workers to grow palm trees
for their own personal gain over an eight-year period, a private investigator
concluded in a summary he gave to the college in July.

When told of the conclusions reached by the private investigator hired by
MiraCosta, an attorney for Texeira said they are trumped up and that they reflect
the work of an overzealous investigator determined to find wrongdoing where it did
not exist.

Specific allegations against Texeira have not previously been revealed to the
media or college employees because of privacy laws governing personnel issues.

A summary of the private investigator's conclusions and some related documents
were given to the North County Times last month by a person formerly affiliated
with the college who insisted on anonymity.

Lawyers for MiraCosta said the investigator's report is an "incomplete" document
because the probe has continued to evolve.

Controversy erupted at MiraCosta shortly after the college's president announced
in May that a whistle-blower had revealed the alleged palm tree scheme, and that
an outside investigation had confirmed the whistle-blower's allegations.

The college hired former FBI agent Robert Price during the early months of 2006
to conduct the investigation.The formal summary of Price's findings that the
newspaper obtained was given by Price to MiraCosta trustees and the county
district attorney's office in July.

A controversial investigation

No criminal charges related to the alleged scheme have been filed. Texeira's
attorney said Texeira has been interviewed by the district attorney's office at least
twice, including a meeting in February.

Trustees placed Texeira, 55, on paid leave last spring. They also placed the vice
president for instruction on paid leave in connection with the alleged scheme, and
a former dean claims she was forced to retire early.

At least three employees have filed lawsuits against MiraCosta in connection with
the alleged palm scheme. They include two former horticulture department
workers and the former dean who claims she was forced to retire.

Escalating employee criticism over how the alleged scheme was handled by the
administration, and how Price conducted his investigation, was followed by a
landslide no-confidence vote against the college's president by the full-time
faculty in November.

Such votes carry no legal weight, but they often lead to the dismissal or
resignation of the targeted administrator.

In a June letter to the district attorney, trustees estimated that Texeira and
Wackerman spent $300,000 in taxpayer money cultivating palm trees. Trustees
did not provide an estimate of the revenue generated, but they said they intend to
recover all illegal proceeds.

In the same letter, trustees said that Texeira tried to allow Wackerman to remove
the 2,300 palm trees remaining on the property after the alleged scheme was
uncovered. The trustees estimated in the letter that the remaining palms were
worth $222,370.

An illegal partnership

The seven-page summary from the private investigator describes the partnership
between Texeira and Wackerman in great detail, including how it began and how
the two agreed to divide up the proceeds from the palm sales.

It cites falsified invoices and information allegedly revealed by Texeira and
Wackerman during interviews with the private investigator. But supporting
documents were not included with the summary, and they were not provided by
the anonymous source.

According to the investigator, Texeira and Wackerman were living together in
1997 when Wackerman learned that palm trees had been abandoned by The
Palm Co. in southwest Oceanside, which had gone out of business

Texeira then allowed Wackerman to reconfigure a portion of the college's 10-acre
"growing area" to use as his own for palm tree cultivation, free of charge, the
investigator concluded. Texeira also hired student workers expressly for the
purpose of tending Wackerman's palms and selling them, the investigator's report
said.

A criminal attorney for Texeira conceded that she and Wackerman did forge a
partnership to grow and sell palm trees on campus, but the attorney said
MiraCosta's private investigator misunderstood the dynamics and motives of the
arrangement.

"There was nothing nefarious about it," said the attorney, Brad Patton. "Someone
has chosen to make a mountain out of a molehill."

David Bristol, an educational law attorney representing Texeira, said that his client
and Wackerman never profited from the palm trees. He also called the charges
"ridiculous" and trumped up.

"The people who profited from the palm trees were the students and the
horticulture department," said Bristol. "It's been going on that way for years."

Phone calls were not returned by Pat Sullivan, Wackerman's attorney.

No written agreement

No agreement with Wackerman was ever put in writing, and Texeira never notified
MiraCosta administrative staff or trustees, according to the investigator.

Wackerman told the investigator that the college was supposed to receive 7
percent of palm sale proceeds, but Texeira said the college would only receive 7
percent of the trees left over if the operation concluded.

Wackerman then filed a fictitious business name statement for a new business
called Palms and More. The address he listed was the residence he and Texeira
occupied at the time.

Texeira's failure to tell her superiors about the arrangement was not particularly
unusual, her attorney said.

"There were many agreements like this at the school over the years, some more
hazy than this and some less hazy," the attorney said. "It's mind-boggling that they
are up in arms about this when so many other agreements of this nature existed."

An injury claim

When a student worker who tended to the palm trees filed an injury workers'
compensation claim against the college in 1999, Wackerman and Texeira made
false statements to claims adjustors and attorneys working on the claim, the
investigator concluded.

In particular, Texeira did not tell MiraCosta's risk manager about her arrangement
with Wackerman or the fact that the student employee performed work for
Wackerman, the investigator's report said.

Wackerman, who had no workers' compensation insurance, made false
statements to a MiraCosta attorney in a successful effort to get the college to
indemnify him against the claim, the investigator concluded.

Specifically, Wackerman told the attorney that he had been recruited by Texeira
to take care of some donated palms that the college could not afford to nurture,
according to the investigator's report. Wackerman never mentioned his Palms and
More business, or his arrangement with Texeira, the investigator concluded.

Texeira's attorney said he could not comment on the workers' compensation
allegations because he was unfamiliar with them.

False invoices

In May 2005, Texeira deposited a $2,552 check from a palm tree customer in the
college's bank account. She then transferred this money and an extra $300 to
Wackerman by creating a series of invoices, the investigator concluded.

The invoices indicate that Wackerman's company, Palms and More, had supplied
the college with materials, but Texeira knew that no such materials had been
provided to the college, according to the investigator.

The prices listed for the items on the invoice were higher than prices normally
charged to MiraCosta for similar products from its legitimate vendors, the
investigator's report said. Shortly afterward, Wackerman cashed a check from the
college for $2,855 for materials that he never provided, according to the
investigator.

Texeira's attorney said the accusations of falsifying invoices are off the mark.

"The money from that sale went to the school, but it should have gone to
Wackerman because the palms sold on that day belonged to him," the attorney
said. "The agreement was that Wackerman would keep the larger palms because
they were unmanageable for the college."

In order to make the transaction work within the school's accounting system,
Texeira had to handle the invoices the way she did, according to her attorney.
Wackerman had provided the materials listed, but on a prior occasion, the
attorney said.

"It was a way for her to make things right," the attorney said. "They had a fairly
loose system of reimbursements at the college."

Anger over leak

Faculty leaders at MiraCosta, the college's president and its trustees have
complained about the leak of confidential documents to the North County Times.

Jonathan Cole, president of the Academic Senate faculty panel, said at a Feb. 20
board of trustees meeting that the private investigator's report is incomplete and
unreliable.

"The privacy rights of senate members have been violated in the most shocking
way," said Cole. "This release of selected documents containing unsubstantiated
allegations appears calculated to damage the reputation of these individuals."

College President Victoria Munoz Richart and Charles Adams, president of the
board of trustees, said at the same meeting that they were equally outraged.

Price, the private investigator whose report was leaked, said in a February
interview that he was also disappointed that confidential documents had been
exposed.

But Price, who has operated a private investigation firm in Rancho Bernardo for
20 years, declined to back away from the allegations in his July report.
Investigator Robert Price
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Why did MiraCosta Community College taxpayers pay over a million
dollars to investigate $305 of stolen water?
A Short History of the $3
million MiraCosta Palm Tree
Fiasco


At the request of MiraCosta College
president Victoria Richart,
attorney
Dan Shinoff organized an
investigation of the horticulture
department,
eventually exposing
the theft of $305 worth of water for
palm trees.  

But the palm trees were not the
real target of Mr. Shinoff's $1.3
million investigation; the trees
were allowed to die from lack of
water after the people caring for
the trees were fired.


The real targets were the faculty,
which opposed President Richart's
administration, and
Julie Hatoff, an administrator who
was friendly with the faculty.  

But the board claimed that it was only
interested in the money improperly
spent in the horticulture department.  
“If a dollar is misappropriated – and it
costs $100,000 to investigate it – so
be it,” Trustee Gregory Post said in
defense of the
$1.3 million cost of
the investigation for which Mr.
Shinoff hired Bob Price.


Mr. Shinoff ordered that Julie Hatoff be
removed from campus, then the board
took steps to fire her (see April 21,
2007 article below).

In June 2007
Richart resigned, and
fifteen hours later she had a $1.6
million settlement-- without even
filing a tort claim.  


This is bizarre for many reasons.  

Why did MiraCosta's attorney Dan
Shinoff negotiate a $1.6 settlement
with Richart instead of advising the
board to follow normal procedure
clearly spelled out by the SDCOE JPA
(which insured the college)?  

SDCOE has told all school districts to
deny all tort claims.  Shinoff didn't
even wait for a claim to be filed to
engineer the giveaway.  

But local attorney Leon Page sued to
overturn the payoff, saying it exceeded
the legal amount.  Page won in the
appellate court, and Richart had to
give most of the money back.

Then Richart sued the college.  The
college hired new lawyers for the
lawsuit.  They filed a Special Motion to
Strike, or "SLAPP" suit.