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K. Lloyd Billingsley - Contributor
[Courtesty of Pacific Research Institute]

K. Lloyd Billingsley is Editorial Director for the Pacific Research Institute and has been widely published on topics including on popular culture, defense policy, education reform, and many other current policy issues. [go to Billingsley index]

Big Fish Got Away in Corruption Scandal
State officials in the education shadows…

[K. Lloyd Billingsley] 7/6/04

Several weeks ago in Los Angeles, a federal court found Michael Guzman and Robert Guzman of the Templo Calvario Legalization and Education Center guilty of stealing more than $650,000 from an education program administered by the state Department of Education. This longstanding corruption scandal provides valuable lessons for educators, legislators, taxpayers, and even journalists.

The action was the only successful prosecution in a five-year probe. There should have been more, given the corruption and the money at stake – more than $20 million.

During the 1990s a number of "Community Based Organizations" were getting federal funds intended for English-language instruction of immigrants. Much got used for such items as Mercedes-Benz automobiles, and to prop up insolvent organizations. Auditors found fake attendance figures, with bogus teachers and students. One school turned out to be an open field.

When the auditors revealed the corruption, state education bosses made life very difficult for the whistleblowers. These included Robert Cervantes, who managed the department's adult education program until 1996. Cervantes was also on the receiving end of threats from the late Bert Corona, leader of Hermandad Mexicana Nacional, the organization that got most of the money. But the problems could not remain hidden.

Cervantes and another whistleblower filed suit over their demotion. The press caught wind of the story and a grand jury in Los Angeles indicted Hermandad Mexicana Nacional Legal Center in 2001. But as one report said, the prosecution has "stalled." This is something of a mystery.

That organization's many problems were an open book, whereas Templo Calvario was more obscure. However, Bert Corona was a friend of Bill Clinton, who invited him to the White House. Robert Guzman, on the other hand, was a Republican who ran for the state Senate and lost four bids for Congress.

Corona knew where most of the money went, likely into his own pocket. He died in 2000 but other issues remain accessible. As for the state politicians who wanted the funding to continue, the press has been reluctant to name names.

Perhaps current state superintendent Jack O'Connell will look into this case. Taxpayers, meanwhile, can be assured that a lot of their money was ripped off and will never be recovered. And the Department of Education is not exactly accountable.

The Guzman brothers will be sentenced in November but one can sympathize on some level. The entire structure of education in California, not just one program, functions as a vast system of patronage. And the Guzmans are not the only ones who had teachers who didn't really teach. CRO

copyright 2004 Pacific Research Institute




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