Chancellor Rita Cepeda oversees the San Jose Evergreen Community College District. It's one of the biggest districts in the Bay Area, with two campuses serving nearly 20,000 students looking for a quality education. In her role, Chancellor Cepeda travels the country attending conferences and events on behalf of the district. Often times, her husband joins her on those trips, but the NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit has uncovered expense reports, showing on at least two occassions, the Chancellor used her district credit card to pay for her husband's plane tickets.
When asked if she thought it was a mistake to use her district credit card to make those purchases, Chancellor Cepeda refused to answer the question directly. "I know you are an expert at headlines and I know what you are trying to get and you're not going to get that headline from me," Cepeda said.
Throughout the interview, Cepeda defended her decision to use her district credit card to pay for two plane tickets for her husband, one in December 2011 to attend a holiday party at the White House with President Obama, and a few months later, to attend a conference in Orlando. "I shopped for the cheapest fare. I made a single transaction and I used the district credit card and I immediately reimbursed the district for the cost," Cepeda said.
While Chancellor Cepeda may not see this as a problem, Board of Trustee member, Maria Fuentes does. She was the Board President when Chancellor Cepeda submitted that second expense report. "I think this particular incident was a serious problem," Fuentes said, adding that the Chancellor should have absolutely known not to use her district credit card for this purpose. "The issue is that we have a policy that prohibits any purchase that is non-distrct related with the card," Fuentes said.
The district policy states specifically, "The procurement card is to be used exclusively for district business purposes"
It's also spelled out in the Chancellor's Employment contract which states, "The Chancellor shall not use district credit cards for non-district or personal purposes."
These rules are especially important in light of the district's recent history. Back in 2010, independent investigators found former Chancellor Rosa Perez violating district policy. Recommendations followed giving trustees greater oversight in supervising the chancellor's budget and travel.
Chancellor Cepeda said she immediately reimbursed the district for her husband's plane tickets, but that's not what the records appear to show.
On the second trip, Chancellor Cepeda purchased her husband's ticket with the district credit card on February 5th. The bill was dated February 22nd, and the money to reimburse the district wasn't purchased until six weeks later.
On the first trip, she purchased her husband's plane ticket on November 11th. The credit card bill was dated November 22nd and the money order to reimburse the district took almost two months. The money order is dated January 10th.
When asked why it took so long, Chancellor Cepeda said: "It was a matter of submmittal by staff who did it as soon as possible." When pressed on the issue and asked why she didn't write a check to reimburse the district immediately, Chancellor Cepeda didn't back down. "I am telling you I am a person of integrity that is following the rules as best as she can. You are trying to say just the opposite and I will not allow you that," she said.
Chancellor Cepeda says internal reviews did not find a problem with her violating her contract and district policy. As you heard, the Chancellor believes she did nothing wrong, but she did tell us that she no longer uses a district credit card for personal purchases, a move recommended by her auditors.
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