Paul De La Cerda.
(Via Cabrillo College)
Higher Ed

Cabrillo vice president placed on leave following felony charges related to previous job

The Cabrillo College Board of Trustees placed Paul De La Cerda, the school’s vice president of instruction, on administrative leave through Jan. 31. The board did not explain its actions, though De La Cerda is scheduled to be arraigned Jan. 7 related to two felonies he is accused of committing while employed by East Los Angeles College.

The Cabrillo College Board of Trustees on Monday evening placed its embattled vice president of instruction, Paul De La Cerda, on administrative leave until Jan. 31.

The decision comes days after he was charged by Los Angeles County prosecutors with two felonies: one for alleged embezzlement and another for misappropriation of government funds while employed at East Los Angeles College.

De La Cerda, 47, has not responded to requests for comment.

On Thursday, the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office said that he overbilled the college about $1,600 for trips he took during a two-year period related to his position as dean. De La Cerda is accused of forging documents he submitted for reimbursement, according to the district attorney’s office.

It wasn’t immediately clear what next steps the Cabrillo board — a locally elected body that governs the college — will take in the new year, given that De La Cerda is now scheduled to be arraigned on Jan. 7 in Los Angeles.

Cabrillo spokesperson Kristin Fabos said there is no college policy regarding automatic dismissal or discipline for employees accused of crimes. She also said that the college’s human resources department determined De La Cerda’s contract is not public record.

De La Cerda began working at Cabrillo in July, tasked with helping turn around the college’s declining enrollment, an issue widely shared among California’s community colleges.

While there is little context to the charges currently, it is noteworthy that Cabrillo President Matt Wetstein pointed Lookout, in a Saturday evening phone call, to a statement he gave to media outlets in late September and early October. At that time, the East Los Angeles College newspaper published a report about Cabrillo hiring De La Cerda despite him being dismissed from the earlier job.

“We were aware of the circumstances of why he left East L.A., and we went through the normal process for hiring,” he told Lookout.

Wetstein told Lookout that he has spoken to De La Cerda since the news came out, but declined to describe the conversation.

On Friday afternoon, Fabos released the following statement:

“The Cabrillo Community College District is actively engaged in working on this matter. We take this development very seriously and recognize this is creating concern among employees, students, and the community.

“We acknowledge that concern, but are restricted in what we can publicly share as this is a confidential personnel matter. Please know that this has our full attention and that we will share additional details as we are able. The best interests of the college, its students and employees, and our community continue to be paramount.”

Cabrillo College
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Prosecutors say De La Cerda, who previously served as the dean of economic development and innovation with East Los Angeles College, overbilled the school for several hotel stays between March 2017 and 2019.

De La Cerda left East L.A. College in June 2021, said William Boyer, Los Angeles Community College District’s director of communications. The student newspaper said he was dismissed in March, but Boyer couldn’t confirm that.

“This is a very serious matter, and ensuring that we are good and careful stewards of the public taxpayer monies entrusted to us is a top priority for the district, our board and executive staff,” Boyer said in a statement.

The case remains under investigation by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. De La Cerda is scheduled to be arraigned Jan. 7.

Check back for updates on this developing story.

The Los Angeles Times contributed to this report.