Search warrant served at MACSA offices

 

Investigators from the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s
office served a search warrant Thursday afternoon at the San Jose
offices of the Mexican American Community Service Agency and
collected records needed for an ongoing investigation, according to
district attorney spokeswoman Amy Cornell.
Investigators from the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s office served a search warrant Thursday afternoon at the San Jose offices of the Mexican American Community Service Agency and collected records needed for an ongoing investigation, according to district attorney spokeswoman Amy Cornell.

Cornell said she would not characterize the incident as a “raid,” and said the use of a search warrant was not out of the ordinary in situations such as the one surrounding the DA’s investigation of MACSA. However, she would not comment on the specifics of the investigation.

“I can confirm that we’re conducting an investigation,” Cornell said. “I wouldn’t call it a raid. I would call it serving a search warrant.”

She said the use of a search warrant doesn’t necessarily mean the nonprofit, that offers services to the Gilroy community, was being uncooperative. Rather, search warrants are routinely used to obtain business or bank records needed for investigations.

In August 2009, a $22,000 audit conducted by the state’s Fiscal Crisis & Management Assistance Team “found evidence of apparent illegal fiscal practices and misappropriation of funds” by MACSA. Charles Weis, Santa Clara County Office of Education superintendent, forwarded those findings to the district attorney. Because the state’s audit is not admissible evidence in court, Cornell said further investigation was necessary.

The nonprofit – which ran Gilroy’s only charter school and another charter school in San Jose – skimmed about $400,000 in payments from its charter school employees’ retirement accounts over the course of several years and used those funds to pay for operational costs, according to the report.

Both charter schools closed in the summer of 2009. MACSA relinquished its charter for El Portal Leadership Academy in Gilroy. Soon after, San Jose’s East Side Union High School District revoked MACSA’s charter for Academia Calmecac.

Art Barron, a program director with the nonprofit in Gilroy, said the investigators did not visit the Gilroy offices Thursday, but that they took computers and financial records from the San Jose offices.

“They didn’t come to our offices,” he said. “I think they’re just investigating three or four people that used to work for MACSA.”

Since the misappropriation of funds came to light, the nonprofit has undergone a complete turnover in its administration.

“It is important to state that the employees responsible for making these past fiscal decisions are no longer with the organization and a new management structure has been implemented,” wrote former Interim Chief Executive Officer Maria Elena De La Garza in a letter sent last year to MACSA’s “friends and supporters.”

Former Chief Executive Officer Olivia Soza-Mendiola resigned June 30, 2009, and former Chief Financial Officer Ben Tan is also no longer employed by MACSA. Both oversaw MACSA during the skimming. De La Garza took over after Soza-Mendiola resigned, and Aurora Cepeda is currently serving in the role. Cepeda was not immediately available for comment.

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