Investigator: Professor was key to MiraCosta palm scheme
North County Times
By: DAVID GARRICK
March 12, 2007
OCEANSIDE ---- A MiraCosta College professor falsified payment invoices and
deceived workers compensation investigators as part of an illegal partnership
to grow and sell palm trees on campus, according to confidential documents
obtained by the North County Times.
Horticulture professor Alleen Texeira and fertilizer salesman Jack Wackerman
conspired to use MiraCosta land, water and student workers to grow palm trees
for their own personal gain over an eight-year period, a private investigator
concluded in a summary he gave to the college in July.
When told of the conclusions reached by the private investigator hired by
MiraCosta, an attorney for Texeira said they are trumped up and that they
reflect the work of an overzealous investigator determined to find wrongdoing
where it did not exist.
Specific allegations against Texeira have not previously been revealed to the
media or college employees because of privacy laws governing personnel
A summary of the private investigator's conclusions and some related
documents were given to the North County Times last month by a person
formerly affiliated with the college who insisted on anonymity.
Lawyers for MiraCosta said the investigator's report is an "incomplete"
document because the probe has continued to evolve.
Controversy erupted at MiraCosta shortly after the college's president
announced in May that a whistle-blower had revealed the alleged palm tree
scheme, and that an outside investigation had confirmed the whistle-blower's
The college hired former FBI agent Robert Price during the early months of
2006 to conduct the investigation.The formal summary of Price's findings that
the newspaper obtained was given by Price to MiraCosta trustees and the
county district attorney's office in July.
A controversial investigation
No criminal charges related to the alleged scheme have been filed. Texeira's
attorney said Texeira has been interviewed by the district attorney's office at
least twice, including a meeting in February.
Trustees placed Texeira, 55, on paid leave last spring. They also placed the
vice president for instruction on paid leave in connection with the alleged
scheme, and a former dean claims she was forced to retire early.
At least three employees have filed lawsuits against MiraCosta in connection
with the alleged palm scheme. They include two former horticulture department
workers and the former dean who claims she was forced to retire.
Escalating employee criticism over how the alleged scheme was handled by the
administration, and how Price conducted his investigation, was followed by a
landslide no-confidence vote against the college's president by the full-time
faculty in November.
Such votes carry no legal weight, but they often lead to the dismissal or
resignation of the targeted administrator.
In a June letter to the district attorney, trustees estimated that Texeira and
Wackerman spent $300,000 in taxpayer money cultivating palm trees. Trustees
did not provide an estimate of the revenue generated, but they said they intend
to recover all illegal proceeds.
In the same letter, trustees said that Texeira tried to allow Wackerman to
remove the 2,300 palm trees remaining on the property after the alleged
scheme was uncovered. The trustees estimated in the letter that the remaining
palms were worth $222,370.
An illegal partnership
The seven-page summary from the private investigator describes the
partnership between Texeira and Wackerman in great detail, including how it
began and how the two agreed to divide up the proceeds from the palm sales.
It cites falsified invoices and information allegedly revealed by Texeira and
Wackerman during interviews with the private investigator. But supporting
documents were not included with the summary, and they were not provided by
the anonymous source.
According to the investigator, Texeira and Wackerman were living together in
1997 when Wackerman learned that palm trees had been abandoned by The
Palm Co. in southwest Oceanside, which had gone out of business
Texeira then allowed Wackerman to reconfigure a portion of the college's
10-acre "growing area" to use as his own for palm tree cultivation, free of
charge, the investigator concluded. Texeira also hired student workers
expressly for the purpose of tending Wackerman's palms and selling them, the
investigator's report said.
A criminal attorney for Texeira conceded that she and Wackerman did forge a
partnership to grow and sell palm trees on campus, but the attorney said
MiraCosta's private investigator misunderstood the dynamics and motives of
"There was nothing nefarious about it," said the attorney, Brad Patton.
"Someone has chosen to make a mountain out of a molehill."
David Bristol, an educational law attorney representing Texeira, said that his
client and Wackerman never profited from the palm trees. He also called the
charges "ridiculous" and trumped up.
"The people who profited from the palm trees were the students and the
horticulture department," said Bristol. "It's been going on that way for years."
Phone calls were not returned by Pat Sullivan, Wackerman's attorney.
No written agreement
No agreement with Wackerman was ever put in writing, and Texeira never
notified MiraCosta administrative staff or trustees, according to the investigator.
Wackerman told the investigator that the college was supposed to receive 7
percent of palm sale proceeds, but Texeira said the college would only receive
7 percent of the trees left over if the operation concluded.
Wackerman then filed a fictitious business name statement for a new business
called Palms and More. The address he listed was the residence he and
Texeira occupied at the time.
Texeira's failure to tell her superiors about the arrangement was not particularly
unusual, her attorney said.
"There were many agreements like this at the school over the years, some
more hazy than this and some less hazy," the attorney said. "It's mind-boggling
that they are up in arms about this when so many other agreements of this
An injury claim
When a student worker who tended to the palm trees filed an injury workers'
compensation claim against the college in 1999, Wackerman and Texeira made
false statements to claims adjustors and attorneys working on the claim, the
In particular, Texeira did not tell MiraCosta's risk manager about her
arrangement with Wackerman or the fact that the student employee performed
work for Wackerman, the investigator's report said.
Wackerman, who had no workers' compensation insurance, made false
statements to a MiraCosta attorney in a successful effort to get the college to
indemnify him against the claim, the investigator concluded.
Specifically, Wackerman told the attorney that he had been recruited by
Texeira to take care of some donated palms that the college could not afford to
nurture, according to the investigator's report. Wackerman never mentioned his
Palms and More business, or his arrangement with Texeira, the investigator
Texeira's attorney said he could not comment on the workers' compensation
allegations because he was unfamiliar with them.
In May 2005, Texeira deposited a $2,552 check from a palm tree customer in
the college's bank account. She then transferred this money and an extra $300
to Wackerman by creating a series of invoices, the investigator concluded.
The invoices indicate that Wackerman's company, Palms and More, had
supplied the college with materials, but Texeira knew that no such materials had
been provided to the college, according to the investigator.
The prices listed for the items on the invoice were higher than prices normally
charged to MiraCosta for similar products from its legitimate vendors, the
investigator's report said. Shortly afterward, Wackerman cashed a check from
the college for $2,855 for materials that he never provided, according to the
Texeira's attorney said the accusations of falsifying invoices are off the mark.
"The money from that sale went to the school, but it should have gone to
Wackerman because the palms sold on that day belonged to him," the attorney
said. "The agreement was that Wackerman would keep the larger palms
because they were unmanageable for the college."
In order to make the transaction work within the school's accounting system,
Texeira had to handle the invoices the way she did, according to her attorney.
Wackerman had provided the materials listed, but on a prior occasion, the
"It was a way for her to make things right," the attorney said. "They had a fairly
loose system of reimbursements at the college."
Anger over leak
Faculty leaders at MiraCosta, the college's president and its trustees have
complained about the leak of confidential documents to the North County Times.
Jonathan Cole, president of the Academic Senate faculty panel, said at a Feb.
20 board of trustees meeting that the private investigator's report is incomplete
"The privacy rights of senate members have been violated in the most shocking
way," said Cole. "This release of selected documents containing
unsubstantiated allegations appears calculated to damage the reputation of
College President Victoria Munoz Richart and Charles Adams, president of the
board of trustees, said at the same meeting that they were equally outraged.
Price, the private investigator whose report was leaked, said in a February
interview that he was also disappointed that confidential documents had been
But Price, who has operated a private investigation firm in Rancho Bernardo for
20 years, declined to back away from the allegations in his July report.
Investigator Robert Price
|San Diego Education Report