By Janean Sorrell, Oct. 25, 2022
A Cal Poly Pomona university police sergeant filed a lawsuit on Oct. 7 alleging violations of the Whistleblower Protection Act and retaliation by university President Soraya M. Coley and Vice President of Student Affairs Christina Gonzales.
In the lawsuit filed by Sgt. Marcus Simpson, the sergeant alleged multiple incidents where CPP administration obstructed university police investigations which ultimately led to five university police sergeants filing whistleblower complaints.
Simpson claims that Coley sent a mass email exposing the whistleblowers. The lawsuit suggests the existence of a mutiny within the university police department and referred to several previously-unreported police investigations on campus, including that of an alleged $1 million theft from the CPP Foundation.
In an email, Senior Director of Strategic Communications for the CSU, Michael Uhlenkamp stated, “based on our understanding of the facts, we dispute all allegations of retaliation and intentional interference.”
Simpson’s attorney Brandi Harper did not respond to a request for comment.
The first claim in the lawsuit states that in 2018 CPP officials “intentionally hindered, prevented and ultimately stopped a criminal investigation regarding an embezzlement by a professor.”
The claim alleges that in 2017 CPP became aware that a professor embezzled $100,000 in grant funds to pay for a personal European vacation and used the money to buy items unrelated to school activities. Upon learning about the investigation Coley ordered the investigation to be stopped and had all the documents destroyed.
The professor in question was allowed to retire without any criminal or administrative action taken.
Uhlenkamp said that those allegations were probed as part of a CSU special investigation. A 2018 summary of that investigation showed that CSU found multiple improprieties and violations.
Uhlenkamp declined to comment in detail on that and other investigations cited in the lawsuit. “The CSU takes very seriously any and all allegations of misconduct, policy violations, and fiscal improprieties,” Uhlenkamp said. “When any such allegations are brought to our attention, we take appropriate action in response.”
The second incident in the lawsuit claims that CPP administration interfered with the investigation of a student that falsely reported identity theft.
According to the lawsuit, on Feb. 12, 2020, a student reported to the UPD that his debit card had been used without his permission over 40 times and filed a police report. However, during the investigation, UPD discovered that 38 out of the 40 purchases were in fact done by the student. This resulted in the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office filing one count of PC 148.5 (making a false police statement) against the student.
Upon learning about the incident, Simpson claimed, Coley and Gonzales ordered then Chief of Police Dario Robinson to ask the DA to drop all charges. Given this instruction Robinson ordered a detective to speak to the DA about dropping the charges.
According to the lawsuit the handling prosecutor said, “The request is unethical and could cause other future criminal case dismissal.”
The third incident outlines how Coley tried to suppress information in a felony embezzlement of over $1 million from CPP Foundation.
According to the lawsuit the embezzlement was discovered Feb. 21, 2020, in which UPD, along with the FBI, worked the case together and ultimately oversaw the indictment and conviction of the Foundation employee.
The lawsuit suggests that Coley demanded the criminal report be changed to protect her and the university’s reputation. Coley also directly ordered UPD not to do a press release, Simpson claimed, in fear that it may get her fired since she was on the Foundation’s board of directors at that time.
Public financial filings by the Foundation in 2020 appeared to reference the theft, stating that “significant internal control weaknesses” were at fault for a “material amount of misappropriation of assets (that) took place over a span of time.”
Jared Ceja, executive director and chief executive officer of the Foundation, said in an email he was unaware of the lawsuit. Ceja added that he “may not know as much about these circumstances as you might have hoped” because he started with the Foundation on March 16, 2020, following the alleged embezzlement’s discovery. He declined a request for interview, referring to Uhlenkamp for comment.
Uhlenkamp noted in his email that, “The matter was appropriately referred to local and federal law enforcement authorities and throughout the process, the Foundation and the University cooperated fully with the criminal investigation and took steps to strengthen fiscal controls.”
The claim also alleges that because of these prior incidents, Coley and Gonzales wanted to create an in-house court process where a committee would review all UPD cases and decide whether or not a case gets referred to the DA for prosecution.
Simpson claimed that upon learning of such an arrangement, he and Robinson advised Coley and Gonzales that it would be illegal and unethical. Simpson said he then spoke to an assistant DA about this request who stated it was improper because “it violated the DA’s role of deciding who would be prosecuted.”
The five whistleblower complaints were filed against Coley and Gonzales on May 3, 2021 “alleging malfeasance, fiduciary incompetence and lack of leadership/unethical leadership.”
A week later on May 11, 2021, Coley sent out an email denying the whistleblower allegations to the entire police department, parking services and professional UPD staff, according to the lawsuit. Simpson claims the email listed all five whistleblowers’ names and ranks.
The lawsuit claims that this violated state statue which states, “The identity of the person providing the protected disclosure shall not be disclosed without written permission of the person unless the disclosure is to a law enforcement agency that is conducting a criminal investigation or to the State Auditor.”
The CSU hired a law firm to investigate the whistleblower complaints. Simpson claimed that those attorneys refused to let interviewees record the interviews and showed biases against the whistleblowers and asked one whistleblower “if it really even mattered if the names were released by the CSU.”
It is also noted that on June 1, 2021, CPP hired Scott VanScoy as interim police chief and upon his first day told Simpson “I know your name is on the complaint letter to the President. The letter did nothing but piss off the Chancellor and President.”
Feature image by Darren Loo
Show Comments (16)
This school is political and the attitude of the staff would absolutely make me believe the whistleblowers in this case. How ironic; a school that is supposed to teach ethics in the workplace does not have any.
Chancellor’s Office and Csu will work hard to bury this.
So much for improving the campus environment where employees can feel safe from discrimination, harassment, and retaliation. Unless you snitch on the powers that be, you WILL be bullied!
If you do some digging, you may find CPP has a reputation for covering up.
The President should have been fired but now that it is out she should resign, she is a disgrace to the University and I do not know how this was covered up for four years. I am apalled by this and it is humiliating to everyone that works at Cal Poly.
Coley and Simpson need to be fired, immediately. Utter incompetence, and criminal intention. From an alumnus, I am ashamed they are members of this university staff/faculty.
Why should Simpson be fired. He exposed all of the BS that Coley has done or endorsed
Not sure why you say that Simpson should be fired. Did you read the article closely? Simpson should be applauded for standing up to unethical behaviors.
It’s a joke to “strength fiscal controls”. Just see the audited financial statements of the Foundation and the auditor comments no one should trust the company with the donations grants and any other campus property.
Why did Dr. Austin, Director of Ombuds step down? She seemed to be the only one fighting this corrupt administration. The Poly Post should talk to her.
A fantastic story! Proud that our Poly Post is covering news like this!
Coley should be fired period
This is a drop in the bucket really. CSULB has been doing this for years. We need action on this!
To identify whistleblowers by name and rank is appalling! This is against CSU Policy and state laws. So much for a safe haven! Its all about the administrators and management at CPP and so many of the staff are treated poorly. President Coley knows better – she has a bad reputation in the CSU System anyway. And the amount embezzeled from the Foundation in 2020 wasn’t a $1 million – try $2 million plus! Cal Poly Pomona used to be a great university – now it is a toxic environment.
Here is that link for Cal Poly internal audit and Foundation has an Audit Comittee
Ombuds Director, Dr. Austin was investigating the mistreatment of Black and Hispanic students, also helping staff members around campus that were being treated unfairly, harassed, and retaliated against by their leadership. I’m sure Coley did not appreciate the bad press or wanted to deal with the issues addressed by Dr. Austin. Perhaps, this is why the Ombuds position has not been filled. Rather Coley “decided against appointing an interim to fill the position, and instead will offer alternative resources, such as CPP Listens and the Whistleblower hotline.” We now know CPP Listens to all the Whistleblowers—just ask Sgt. Marcus Simpson.
The police are constantly being asked to meet a higher standard and when they do the job right, their “leaders” tell them to stop? President Coley and the current chief should be ashamed. Someone should ask Coley why their have been 4 interim chiefs and 1 perminent chief (hired a couple months ago) since Robinson retired. No leadership! I pray for all the officers who I know continue to protect the campus.