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COD Pres. speaks about fraud accusations


PALM DESERT, Calif. - The President of the College of the Desert is speaking out after allegations of fraud and mismanagement were announced Thursday.  COD is accused of wrongfully receiving more than $5 million from the state after misreporting the number of full time students.

Cesia Cupil, a student says, "Its something very concerning to me."

Based on audited attendance data, COD misreported the number of full-time students over a seven year period.

Paul Feist, Vice Chancellor of Communications of the California Community Colleges Chancellor Office, says, "It is serious.  Fair and accurate and transparent distribution of scarce resources is very important to us and we want to make sure that all colleges get what they are entitled to and not more."

The Chancellor's office report says COD wrongfully received more than $5 million from the state.

"This is pretty extraordinary.  It's one college out of 112, so its not a wide spread practice by any means," said Feist.

An anonymous tip started the investigation at the Chancellor's office in 2011.  When President Joel Kinnamon took office in July, he says he immediately took action.

"I knew there were some issues around our FTES reporting, so I've been in contact with the state Chancellor's office early on and then we worked together to bring in an audit team," said Kinnamon.

The results, Dr. Kinnamon admits were surprising.

"There were a lot of findings in there that I didn't anticipate," said Kinnamon.

College of the Desert will have to repay all of the money, that's millions of dollars not going to students.

Mireya Herrera, a student, says, "We are very limited to the classes we have already so its going to affect us a lot not only me but other students too."

The Community College has already had to make some drastic cuts to balance the budget and students worry this latest scandal could mean even more.  

Cupil says, "Now that I am hearing this, it is like really concerning and worrying me that I might have to wait or transfer or go to another community college."

"It makes me frustrated, like we are going to be blamed for somebody else's mistake and its not our fault," said Herrera.

Kinnamon says those worries are unwarranted, they are taking steps to make sure students aren't impacted.

"There was a significant amount that was set aside, but not nearly the total amount, so that balance is what we are going to be working with the Chancellor's office to try to develop a pay back plan that minimizes the impact on students," said Kinnamon.

In fact Kinnamon says they are adding 30 new classes in the spring.

"Our mission is to serve the community I take that seriously," said Kinnamon.

The Chancellor's office now plans to turn the case over to the Riverside County District Attorney's office and State Controller for possible prosecution.

As far as the school's accreditation, Dr. Kinnamon did speak with the head of the accreditation commission Thursday, and says that even with these findings, the school is still in good standing.

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