It was reported Wednesday that Pasadena City College had fired a senior official who is the target of a criminal bribery probe. KPCC has learned that the school actually fired two senior officials Wednesday. The second man is also the target of a bribery investigation by the Los Angeles County district attorney's office.
PCC President Mark Rocha recommended that both Richard Van Pelt, the school’s business manager, and Alfred Hutchings, a facilities supervisor, be terminated immediately. After hours of deliberation, the school’s Board of Trustees voted unanimously to fire both men, though Trustee Berlinda Brown abstained.
Van Pelt’s firing is irreversible; employees at his level cannot contest a termination. Hutchings, who reported to Van Pelt, does have the right to appeal.
President Rocha says that, so far, Hutchings has not notified the college of any plans to contest the decision.
Efforts to reach Van Pelt and Hutchings have so far been unsuccessful. Rocha says the two were fired for failing to disclose they’d formed a company together in 2010, Sustainagistics LLC — a direct violation of school policy.
"We have clear district policies for disclosure for executives," Rocha said, "and that was one serious violation of district policy."
Van Pelt and Hutchings are under criminal investigation for allegedly taking bribes in exchange for granting facilities contracts. They're also being investigated for potential conflicts of interest related to their financial interests in other campus contracts; Van Pelt didn't disclose any conflicts of interest in 2011, according to the L.A. Times.
This is not the first time Hutchings has been accused of wrongdoing. He used to work as an L.A. police officer, until he was convicted of overbilling for overtime pay. He was also fired from a teaching job at L.A. Valley College, reportedly for unspecified improper conduct. He also stepped down from a position as interim chief of police of Maywood at the request of the mayor, according to the L.A. Times.
Board Vice President John Martin responded after being asked how Pasadena City College could hire someone with such a tarnished work history, saying, "There’s always an administrator or somebody that’s representing the position and explaining why they want to hire that person."
In Hutchings' case, that person was Richard Van Pelt.
At the time Hutchings was hired, the college did not conduct any type of background checks on potential employees, though Martin says he assumed someone was doing them.
That led to a new policy for the campus as of Wednesday night: the vetting process for all new employees will include a thorough background check.
"All means all," Martin said.
An internal investigation into the campus’s finances found no evidence there’s been any loss of district money. The college is continuing to investigate to determine whether the company had any contact with potential college vendors.
Pasadena City College owns the broadcast license for KPCC, but the station is operated independently by Southern California Public Radio.