Former Saugus school board president pleads no contest to grand theft

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Paul De La Cerda, a former Saugus Union School District board president and East Los Angeles College dean, pleaded no contest to one count of grand theft on Friday, receiving two years of probation.  

De La Cerda, who was also a former member of the Santa Clarita Human Relations Roundtable, was originally charged on two counts of embezzlement and misuse of public funds last year after he was accused of overbilling his employer for trips he took when he was dean of ELAC.  

As part of a negotiated deal, De La Cerda pleaded no contest to a newly added third felony count of grand theft by an employee or agent in exchange for the first two charges being dismissed. 

Paul De La Cerda.

“He was sentenced to two years felony probation, ordered to pay $1,580.45 in restitution and prohibited from holding a government job during probation,” said Ricardo Santiago, a spokesman for the L.A. County District Attorney’s Office.  

In a statement sent to The Signal on Friday, De La Cerda’s attorney, David Diamond, described the case as being technical and involving forensic accountants. He said his client’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,” said Diamond. “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.” 

The defense attorney continued to argue Friday that his client had held a job involving the promotion of education throughout the state, and that the charges stemmed from poor calculations on the part of De La Cerda when he went back to ELAC for reimbursement on his work-related travel expenses.  

“In this case, he submitted receipts for reimbursement, sometimes under-reporting his out-of-pocket expenses,” said Diamond. “The person responsible for ensuring the numbers were correct was put on leave.” 

Investigators alleged that between March 2017 and 2019 the defendant overbilled East Los Angeles College roughly $1,575 for several hotel stays. He allegedly forged documents he submitted for reimbursement. 

The $1,580.45 De La Cerda was ordered to repay will be returned to East L.A. College, Diamond said.  

“My client thanks the office of the district attorney for being tough, thorough and fair and looks forward to continuing to better our community,” Diamond added.  

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