Arlie Ricasa escaped a possible prison term when she pleaded guilty to a single misdemeanor in the South Bay Corruption Case after originally facing 33 counts, including 16 felonies. Part of the deal included her resignation from her position as a trustee of the Sweetwater Union High School District.
Ricasa’s plea, however, did not require her to surrender her position as EOPS director at Southwestern College and she has indicated that she does not intend to resign. Now it is up to the governing board and President Dr. Melinda Nish to determine whether Ricasa will continue in her $125,000 position at the college or be terminated for criminal activity.
Nish has allowed Ricasa to stay in her post pending legal and human resources advice, she said. Acting Vice President of Human Resources Lynn Solomita said the college district lacks policy related to disciplining academic administrators convicted of misdemeanors. College legal counsel has not yet issued a legal opinion.
Members of the community, however, had very clear opinions about whether Ricasa should stay or go. Staff members of The Sun interviewed 125 students,
college employees and citizens of the college district. Of those, 111 said they were aware of the Ricasa case. Just five of the 111 said Ricasa should be allowed to keep her job, while 91 said she should be fired. Fifteen respondents said they were not sure whether Ricasa should be fired or allowed to stay.
SDSU employee Bianca Padilla, a former SWC student, said Ricasa should be terminated.
“It shows that Southwestern College condones her actions and allows her to conduct criminal activity on campus while not being held responsible or accountable,” Padilla said. “She gets a ‘get out of jail free’ card.”
Andrea Wilkum, a former SWC student, said Ricasa received a lenient sentence because she is an elected official.
“(Ricasa retaining her position at SWC) is bullshit!” she said. “It just proves that money matters as well as who you are. If that was any normal person who knows how many years in jail they would get. Someone in a lower-paying job would have been fired on the spot. Southwestern College is…a joke.”
Several people interviewed said Ricasa betrayed the college and the community.
“She should not return,” said Elisha Moore, 22, a music major. “She cannot be trusted. It was her job to serve students here and she betrayed it. She has lost her rights.”
Music major Alex Vargas, 21, agreed.
“She stole once so she will steal again,” he said. “How can she be trusted? She can’t be put in any position with power because she will betray it.”
Yolanda Rocha, senior project clerk in the SWC CalWorks office, said she was “shocked” that so many charges were reduced to misdemeanors for most of the South Bay Corruption Case defendants, starting with disgraced former president Raj Kumar Chopra.
“These folks all got a slap on the wrist,” she said. “The message is that it’s okay to do it and whatever investigation (there is) they’ll get a misdemeanor. I don’t think it’s fair.”
Monica Osuna agreed.
“I would think that anyone who commits a crime while using their work resources would be fired, especially if taxpayers like myself are paying for them to be at work and doing thejob I am helping pay them to do,” she said.
Ricasa’s defenders said she has given years of service to the community. California State Senator Marty Block, in a letter to Nish, ASO President Laura del Castillo and the governing board, did not directly comment on Ricasa’s legal situation, but he did offer praise for her contributions to the community.
“It behooves the Southwestern College Board of Trustees and its administration to understand the valuable asset that they possess in Arlie Ricasa as an educational and community leader,” wrote Block. “Retaining quality educators and achieving diversity at all levels at the College are important and worthy objectives.”
Another former student with ASO connections, Xenia Sanchez, wrote to former and current ASO students asking them to write a letter in support of Ricasa, who ran the ASO prior to her indictment on charges of bribery, perjury, conflict of interest and others.
“The SWC Governing Board wants to fire Arlie from her current EOPS position as the Director,” wrote Sanchez. “They are saying the reason is because she has been a bad influence on students for years. So she asked me to contact you!”
No governing board member has said publically that Ricasa should be fired, but some trustees have expressed concern that Ricasa was charged by the district attorney for committing crimes on campus during work hours using college computers and fax machines.
The district attorney’s affidavit on Ricasa is more than 100 pages and includes a section describing her efforts to obtain a large amount of cash from a potential Sweetwater contractor to send her daughter to a conference in Washington D.C.
Board member Tim Nader would not comment on the Ricasa case, but said he is concerned any time a crime is dealt with very leniently.
“Betrayal of the public trust is unfortunate when anyone does that and it’s unfortunate when it happens in our own community,” he said. “It’s very disappointing.”
Nader said it is extremely serious when a public official acknowledges they used their public office for personal gain to influence a vote.
“I think to the extent that people come away feeling the consequences didn’t match the criminal actions, that’s a problem for us as a society,” he said. “Whether you are talking about elected officials taking gifts in return for their votes or whether you are talking about people committing street crimes and getting off with short time (in prison).”
Professor of English Andrew Rempt said the college needs to follow its policies and procedures. He said if the college has a policy about employees pleading guilty to misdemeanors, then the Ricasa case is “something that needs to be looked into.”
Otherwise, he said, the college probably has no choice but to retain Ricasa.
“What I worry about is that she be treated fairly,” Rempt said. “Recently the college has had problems when it dismissed employees and then had to bring those employees back under different circumstances. It was a very costly process that was damaging to the school. I think we need to tread carefully in whatever decisions regarding Arlie.”
When she pleaded guilty in December, Ricasa admitted to taking gifts in the amount of $2,099 that she did not report. The District Attorney’s Affidavit Search Warrant, however, argued that Ricasa had taken more than $35,000.
Ricasa had agreed to be interviewed for this story, but her secretary, Veronica Cadena, cancelled the meeting twice. When she canceled the first appointment Cadena said Ricasa had to attend a meeting with Dean of Counseling Beatrice Zamora-Aguilar. A Southwestern College Sun reporter went to Zamora’s office, but Ricasa was not there.
Ricasa served on the Sweetwater board for 15 years before she resigned in December. She has run unsuccessfully for higher offices, including a 2008 run for the California State Assembly. Ricasa was fined $2,000 after that campaign for failing to disclose an $18,000 loan on her campaign statements. Her campaign manager, Kinde Durkee, was recently convicted of stealing $10.5 million and sentenced to eight years in prison for embezzling from elected officials whose campaigns she had managed.
Ricasa attended the Feb. 12 governing board meeting with about 30 supporters. She declined to answer questions as she left the meeting. Her brother, Tony Ricasa, told a reporter from The Sun to leave the area outside the boardroom where Arlie Ricasa was huddled with supporters. The reporter refused to leave and told Tony Ricasa that they were on public property and she was performing her job as a student journalist. Angered, Tony Ricasa pulled out a camera, held it inches from the reporter’s face and flashed it in her face several times, temporarily blinding the reporter. More than a dozen Ricasa supporters formed a semi-circle around the reporter, who eventually left and re-entered the boardroom.
Tony Ricasa’s wife, Joyce Temporal-Ricasa, works for California State Senator Marty Block as an office manager in Lemon Grove. Tony Ricasa also used to work for Block.
Block said Arlie Ricasa asked him for the letter of support. He said he was not fully acquainted with Ricasa’s criminal charges. He said he did not write the letter himself, a staff member did, but that he supports what it says.
“I know roughly the charges,” he said. “I’m not terribly familiar with the material.”
Block said he did not realize that Ricasa was originally charged with 33 counts, but said what was important is that she was actually convicted of only one misdemeanor count.
Block said he and Ricasa were opponents for the 78th Assembly District primary in 2008. They also worked together on an effort to build a university in Chula Vista, he said.
“I wrote nice things about Arlie because she’s done a very good job, as far as I’m concerned, with her work with students,” Block said. “Through the (2008) campaign she conducted herself very professionally and I respected her for that.”
Ricasa is scheduled to be sentenced in the South Bay Superior Court on April 9.