Ricasa demoted, but remains employed

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EOPS Director Arlie Ricasa has been demoted to staff counselor following her admission of guilt in the South Bay Corruption case, but for the time being, remains an employee of the college.

Governing board members voted 5-0 in support of an administrative recommendation to demote Ricasa, who pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of filing a false instrument in the sweeping corruption case that rocked the South County in December 2011 when armed officers raided the homes of 15 Southwestern College and Sweetwater Union High School District officials.  Ricasa was charged with 33 counts – 16 felonies – by the San Diego County District Attorney.  Her guilty plea helped her to avoid prison time, but forced her to resign her seat on the Sweetwater board of trustees.

College administrators initially rallied around Ricasa, but public outcry over her refusal to resign from her $125,000 EOPS directorship pressured college leaders to reconsider.  A February poll conducted by The Sun found that 82 percent of district voters surveyed favored termination of Ricasa, while 4.5 percent said she should retain her administrative position.

About 20 Ricasa family members and supporters sat in back of the boardroom. Some addressed the board and said her demotion was unfair. Former SWC student Joe Feria spoke in support of Ricasa.

“Arlie taught me adult responsibility,” he said. “She taught me to be accountable for the actions I take and to consider the people that those actions may effect.”

Several speakers disagreed, including Associated Student Body Executive Secretary Elizabeth Negrete and ASO President-Elect Sayaka Ridley, both of whom sternly called for Ricasa’s immediate termination.

“This person took gifts without reporting them,” said Negrete. “This person is the face of corruption. This is the burden the ASO still carries. Many people do not trust the ASO because of the actions of Ms. Ricasa.”

Ridley agreed.

“Where do we draw the line between what’s right and what’s wrong?” she asked the board. “We have a corrupt administrator on campus and people wonder why Southwestern College has a bad reputation. Don’t demote her, remove her, permanently, please.”

Ricasa’s demotion is the most recent development in a turbulent spring semester of court appearances, reversals by college administrators, threats against student journalists by Ricasa’s family and a college vice president caught in a lie about Ricasa’s standing at the college.

NEW EVIDENCE SURFACES — Former Interim Vice President of Human Resources Lynn Solomita adamently denied the existence of a letter related  to the possible demotion of Arlie Ricasa. A search  of court records, however, turned up a letter written by Solomita herself.

NEW EVIDENCE SURFACES — Former Interim Vice President of Human Resources Lynn Solomita adamently denied the existence of a letter related to the possible demotion of Arlie Ricasa. A search of court records, however, turned up a letter written by Solomita herself. Photo by Rick Flores

During Ricasa’s April 9 sentencing her attorney, Allen Bloom, incorrectly told Judge Ana España that Ricasa had already been demoted from her director position and would suffer a $16,000 pay cut. Bloom said in open court that he gave the judge a letter from SWC Interim Vice President of Human Resources Lynn Solomita that said Ricasa had been demoted.

Solomita adamantly denied the existence of any letter and said Ricasa had not been demoted.

Following publication of an account of the court proceeding in The Sun, Solomita wrote an email to The Sun criticizing the coverage and again denying the existence of the letter.

“I am appalled that the SUN chose to run two pictures and two statements that Ms. Ricasa had been demoted and that a letter had been sent to the court AFTER I specifically denied to Ms. Chankar that any such letter or demotion had taken place,” wrote Solomita on April 22. “I acknowledge that Ms. Chankar did print my denial; however, the pictures are prominent in the article and are not representative of the facts.”

“It appears that the paper and/or Ms. Chankar is more interested in sensationalism than in the facts. I would hope that the SWC journalism program has more integrity than what was demonstrated in that article.”

A records request submitted by The Sun to the Superior Court, however, turned up a letter in Ricasa’s case file signed by Solomita. Dated March 13, 2014, the Solomita letter said the college was planning a disciplinary hearing and was considering “amended charges” against Ricasa.

“PLEASE TAKE NOTICE that the Southwestern Community College District (“District”) is issuing an Amended Notice of Charges and Recommendation for Termination of Academic Administrators Agreement and Demotion to Faculty Position (“Amended Charges”) to you,” read Solomita’s letter to Ricasa. “A copy of the Amended Charges and exhibits is enclosed with this letter.”

Solomita did not return phone calls seeking clarification of her conflicting statements. Solomita signed her letter with the title J.D., juris doctorate, indicating she has a law degree. A check of California Bar Association records showed that Solomita had resigned from the bar in 2008 and is no longer eligible to practice law. The reason for her resignation was not disclosed. Bar Association officials refused to comment on Solomita’s status and the reason for her resignation.  Solomita is no longer employed by the college and was replaced by new Vice President of Human Resources John Clark in April.

In February Tony Ricasa, Arlie Ricasa’s brother, verbally threatened a student journalist outside the governing board meeting room and repeatedly flashed a camera in her face at point blank range, temporarily blinding her. At the May meeting Tony Ricasa stood alone in an aisle after his sister’s demotion and glared at board members and members of the audience for several moments before he left, but there were no other confrontations.

Ricasa was sentenced by España to 33 months of probation, a $4,589 fine and 80 hours of community service.  A district attorney affidavit included fax and email records of Ricasa asking construction contractors for money while she was at work in her office in the SWC Student Center. At the time Ricasa was director of Student Affairs and supervised the ASO. District Attorney records show that Ricasa accepted more than $36,000 in unreported contributions and gifts from construction firms bidding for Proposition O contracts with Sweetwater.

After she was charged by the District Attorney, Ricasa received six months of paid leave from the college.  When she returned to work, she was removed from the Student Affairs office by college officials who said they did not want her associating with students or handling money. She swapped jobs with Aaron Stark, the EOPS Director. Stark, who was unhappy with the job swap, has since left Southwestern for a position at another college.

Ricasa has cancelled or failed to show for several appointments with reporters from The Sun and has not returned phone calls. Bloom, her attorney, has not returned phone calls to his law office.

Ricasa is one of seven current or former Southwestern College officials who have pleaded guilty to crimes in the South Bay Corruption Case.  Former superintendent Raj Kumar Chopra was the first to plead guilty.  He was joined by former Interim Superintendent Greg Sandoval, former Vice President of Fiscal Affairs Nickolas Alioto, former facilities director John Wilson, and former trustees Yolanda Salcido and Jorge Dominguez.  Henry Amigable, the former college liaison for SGI Construction who gave money to SWC officials, also pleaded guilty.

Current SWC Trustee Terry Valladolid cooperated with authorities and was not indicted by the District Attorney even though she accepted considerable amounts of campaign funding from SGI and other construction contractors indicted by the District Attorney.  Sandoval has yet to be sentenced.

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