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Did L.A. County Office of Education Illegally Leak the Montebello Unified Audit to Intentionally Damage the District’s Management Services Company?

Friday October 19, 2018

BY BRIAN HEWS

A Hews Media Group-Los Cerritos Community News investigation has turned up emails and correspondence that strongly indicate that officials at the highest level inside the Los Angeles County Office of Education (LACOE) leaked a controversial audit to the Whitter Daily News (WDN) in an effort to allege fraud and recover monies from the district’s bond management company, DelTerra Real Estate Services.

The emails were obtained under the Freedom of Information Act via a public records request.

Last week, the Financial Crisis Management Assistance Team (FCMAT) finished a highly-anticipated audit of the Montebello Unified School District’s bond program.

As per policy, a copy of the audit is first sent electronically via email to officials at LACOE, the “client” of FCMAT, who subsequently review the audit and eventually provide recommendations to the MUSD School Board.

That email was sent last Thursday, October 11, at 10:59 a.m. to LACOE Superintendent Debra Duardo, LACOE Chief Financial Officer Dr. Candi Clark and Director, Business Advisory Service, Keith Crafton.

The first email stated, “Attached is a digital copy of the final report developed by the Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team (FCMAT) for the Los Angeles County Office of Education regarding the Montebello Unified School District. FCMAT makes final reports available on its website shortly after their release to the district or county office, often after the local board has received the report. Unless you indicate otherwise, we intend to post this document on October 19, 2018.”

 

Three additional emails went back and forth with LACOE officials pushing hard for the audit’s release five days sooner, on Monday Oct. 15 at 5 p.m., instead of Friday Oct. 19.

Up until that time, the only recipients of the audit were Superintendent Duardo, Dr. Clark, Crafton, and Dr. Clark’s Executive Assistant Ramona Cruz.

Sources told HMG-LCCN that MUSD Superintendent Dr. Anthony Martinez and Board member Lani Cupchoy were invited on Oct. 11 to view the audit but they were not allowed to take a hard copy with them and “an LACOE official watched them as they reviewed the audit.”

Shortly after the initial email to Duardo, Dr. Clark, and Crafton, the audit was leaked to the WDN and reporter Mike Sprague.

One day later, Oct. 12 at 4:46 p.m., DelTerra CEO Luis Rojas received an email from Sprague who wrote, “Luis, I have received a copy of an audit of Montebello Unified School District’s bond program by the Fiscal Criss [sic] Management Team.”

Rojas told Sprague he had not seen the audit so he could not comment.

On Saturday Oct. 13 at 8 a.m. the WDN published an inaccurate article pertaining to the audit with Sprague targeting DelTerra.

Sprague wrote, “the management team’s review of Del Terra payments found the documentation lacked the detail necessarily to clearly demonstrate the specific work performed, the date it was done and the individual who did the work and billing rate. Without this information, the invoice documentation is insufficient and the billing should not have been paid.”

“That’s interesting,” Rojas told HMG-LCCN, “all invoices went through a long review process with final approval for payment given by Mark Skvarna, LACOE’s self-proclaimed ‘financial expert.’

Skvarna was called out by Board President Joanna Flores in March of this year saying he was micro-managing and “overstepping his authority and is interfering with district governance.”

Duardo wrote back an angry letter saying in no uncertain terms that the LACOE has the power to do whatever they want within MUSD.

“He was detailed oriented,” said Rojas. “he meticulously went through all the invoices and approved them, he approved all of DelTerra’s invoices, and now all of a sudden our invoices lack detail?”

Later that Saturday, after Sprague’s article broke, an email was sent,  exclusively obtained by HMG-LCCN.

The revelation of the email  is certain to send shockwaves through the halls of LACOE as well as the offices of their in-house general counsel and indicates a massive scheme to damage DelTerra using Sprague and the WDN.

At 11:46 a.m., an obviously surprised MUSD Superintendent Martinez sent an email to Duardo and Dr. Clark with a link to Sprague’s article.

Below the link Martinez wrote, “I thought the audit was embargoed?”

One half hour later Superintendent Duardo answered, “that’s my understanding as well.”

A little over an hour later, Dr. Clark answered, “that was my understanding also.”

Embargoed in this case indicates that one of the three recipients of the electronic copy-Duardo, Dr. Clark, or Crafton –  leaked the audit to Sprague and that all three knew about the leak.

Sprague then proceeded to write a one-sided and inaccurate article slamming DelTerra.

 

The email after the audit was leaked.

 

HMG-LCCN did ask FCMAT to investigate the leak inside their offices. In an email, the agency answered, “We have already inquired in our system to determine if any of the three independent contractors that worked with our team on the most request LACOE / Montebello USD AB139 audit report regarding bond / facility program accessed the final report from the time we concluded the last edits to the time it was published on our web page.”

“The results of that inquiry is that they did not (leak the audit). As such, even if they did communicate with SCNG (Whittier Daily News) they did not have access to the final report to share.”

In an email, Margo Minecki, the Public Information Officer for LACOE, despite the overwhelming evidence of a cover-up, denied the audit was leaked, “The Los Angeles County Office of Education (LACOE) did not send a copy of the FCMAT report to any members of the news media prior to the report’s public release on Oct. 15 at 5:00 pm.”

© Los Cerritos Community News

Re-publication by attribution only

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