Former Cabrillo College administrator Paul De La Cerda agrees to plea deal

Former Cabrillo College vice president Paul De La Cerda
Former Cabrillo College vice president Paul De La Cerda was charged with embezzlement and misappropriation of funds from a former job.
(Via Cabrillo College)

Paul De La Cerda, who briefly served as vice president of instruction at Cabrillo College, reached a plea deal in the criminal case brought against him in December. Cabrillo’s board voted to dismiss him in February and has since hired a replacement. 

The odd case of Paul De La Cerda, briefly a top Cabrillo College administrator, is over.

On Friday in Los Angeles County Superior Court, he pleaded no contest to grand theft charges in a case brought against him in December, relating to his work at East Los Angeles College, where he worked until he took the position as vice president of instruction at Cabrillo.

He served a scant five months in that position until the Cabrillo board of trustees put him on leave in December. His successor, Robin McFarland, began as Cabrillo’s new vice president of instruction in March.

As part of the plea agreement, De La Cerda accepted two years of probation and saw felony charges of misappropriation of funds and embezzlement dismissed, according to online court documents. He will also pay $1,580 in restitution.

The case had raised eyebrows among observers, given the relatively small amount of money at issue. Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascon charged De La Cerda in December with embezzling almost $1,600 from his then-employer, East Los Angeles College, over a two-year period, and with using the money to pay for personal trips and forging documents for reimbursement.

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De La Cerda started working at Cabrillo College in July 2021, tasked with a key role in revamping the school’s curriculum amid the pandemic and shrinking enrollment. He had been hired several months after he was fired by East Los Angeles College — which had let him go due to the then-ongoing investigation into embezzlement charges there.

Cabrillo President Matt Wetstein told Lookout in December that he and the college’s board of trustees knew of the then-potential charges when they vetted and hired De La Cerda.

The college board of trustees voted in February to dismiss De La Cerda — who will continue to be paid his annual salary of $203,000 through June 30. Formally, the board didn’t fire De La Cerda, but voted on the action of “non-reemployment.”

Following De La Cerda’s plea on Friday, his attorney David Diamond, released a statement.

“Mr. Paul De La Cerda’s goal was to avoid jail time and have the case dismissed. While it may take longer than he had hoped (two years of probation) both those things will take place,” Diamond said. “It could have taken us the same two years to get to trial and as such, this avoids the costly burden of a trial and stress on his family with the same result.”

He added that “Paul’s job was to promote education in this state which he has done with excellence. In this case, he submitted receipts for reimbursement, sometimes underreporting his out-of-pocket expenses.”

Lookout asked Diamond about what happens after the two years of probation and if his client will return to a career in education. He didn’t respond to the latter, but said the grand theft charge will be expunged.

McFarland, De La Cerda’s replacement, has been a full -time faculty member at Cabrillo since the fall of 1998. She earned her Ph.D. in biological anthropology at the University of Washington and is co-author of an anatomy and physiology textbook published by McGraw-Hill.

“We are pleased that Robin McFarland has stepped up to serve as the vice president of instruction at Cabrillo,” Wetstein told Lookout on Monday. “The resolution of Paul De La Cerda’s case makes it clear that we needed to make a clean break and a fresh start.”

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