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Nearly $100,000 in college checks appear forged, audit finds [Updated]

Nearly $100,000 in checks made out to the head of a Los Angeles Trade Tech college foundation appear to have been forged, according to an audit released Monday.

The auditors had handwriting experts review the checks and other documents. The experts concluded the signature of Trade Tech President Roland “Chip” Chapdelaine was probably forged on dozens of checks to the former foundation official, Rhea Chung.

The audit found another official's signature was forged on bonus agreements and another contract involving Chung. She has been on administrative leave since January after a previous district audit raised questions about the propriety of bonuses and perks paid to her.

The Times reported in February that Chung had spent tens of thousands of dollars in foundation money intended to help needy students on golf outings and restaurant meals. 

The contested payments included a $22,000 annual bonus and $1,500 monthly car allowance not allowed by district policy, as well as $2,000 a month that Chung received on top of her contracted foundation salary to run a youth orchestra funded by the foundation.

Chung’s attorney, Mark Geragos, said he “strongly disagreed” with the audit’s findings.

“To me, the audit is nothing more than a way to deflect criticism from the president, Chip Chapdelaine,” he said.

The Los Angeles County district attorney’s office has launched its own inquiry of the alleged forgery. The district auditor’s report also found that some documents provided to the auditors by Chung appeared to have been “changed and/or misrepresented,” including foundation budget reports, conflict of interest forms and a donation from the Annenberg Foundation to the foundation.

[Updated at 5:11 p.m.: The audit found more than $137,000 in foundation checks with Chapdelaine’s signature that the president likely did not sign, of which about $100,000 were payments to Chung.]

[Updated at 6:18 p.m.: Geragos argued that the “questionable” checks were not forgeries because Chapdelaine had authorized other employees to sign checks for him in his absence.

In a letter to the district, an attorney with Geragos’ firm wrote, “The entire audit report is thus immaterial and apparently is only designed to discredit Dr. Chung for some unknown reason, in spite of her excellent achievements on behalf of two charitable organizations.”

The handwriting experts who reviewed the checks concluded that “there were no indications to suggest” that the questioned checks been signed by any of the four college employees who Chapdelaine had authorized to sign checks for him.]


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