Darren Loo | The Poly Post

Professor allegedly embezzled $100k; Retired UPD officer claims he was blocked in investigation

By Caleb Nguyen, Dec. 06, 2022

A former university police lieutenant said that he was blocked in investigating an alleged theft of Foundation funds by a professor in 2017, one instance of what he called a “constant battle” to separate police duties from the interference of university officials under University President Soraya M. Coley. 

Aaron Eaton’s recent claims to The Poly Post echo those in a lawsuit filed in October by his former colleague, University Police Sergeant Marcus Simpson. 

In the suit, Simpson alleged that after a professor was suspected of stealing $100,000, some of which she used to fund a European vacation, the UPD opened an investigation concerning alleged embezzlement, misappropriation of public funds and grand theft — but that Coley ordered the investigation stopped and had evidence destroyed. CPP has denied the lawsuit’s allegations. 

In an email statement to The Poly Post, Coley declined to comment due to active litigation.

According to an audit report conducted by the CSU on Sept. 7, 2018, a professor from the College of Environmental Design allegedly misappropriated funds from the university totaling $100,000. The former professor was never charged with any crime and retired after 2017. 

Eaton said he traveled to the professor’s Long Beach house with former UPD Chief Dario Robinson while working on the case.

“The chief and I drove down there so that he could write a criminal search warrant for the embezzlement to search her house for evidence of the crime,” said Eaton. “It wasn’t too long after that that I’d asked him what was happening with the case, and he kind of ignored me. After a little bit more questioning, it seemed that the president had told him to drop the case and there was no longer a criminal investigation done.”

Former UPD Chief Dario Robinson did not respond to The Poly Post’s repeated efforts to interview him for this story. 

Eaton began his career in 1991 with the Montclair Police Department. After eight years, he transferred to the Long Beach Police Department, becoming a sergeant. Then in 2016, Eaton joined CPP’s UPD as a lieutenant, retiring in August of 2020. 

Eaton said that his tenure at CPP was different from the rest of his near 30-year police career in that he felt investigations were hindered by pressure from the university administration. 

“There was this kind of constant battle, I would say, with us in the police department trying to either educate or explain to the administration the need to follow the regular guidelines and standards and procedures that we had in law enforcement and police work,” said Eaton.

Eaton recalled that during investigation of the alleged embezzlement, and other later cases that information eventually stopped being provided to him. 

“That was the other issue, is they kept a lot of the information very close to their group, the vice presidents and the chief,” said Eaton. “Once they figured out that I would stand up for the truth, stand up for what was right … they stopped providing me, even as a manager, stopped providing any information to me.”

A 2018 CSU investigation found alleged misappropriation of funds from not just the professor from the College of Environmental Design, but two others separately involved with their own misappropriations through the university’s Foundation Services.

Across 35 expenditure reports investigated by the Audit and Advisory Services of the CSU, the organization found nearly $58,000 taken from seven different Foundation program accounts. 

The report states that the professor that took the European vacation and her husband took 28 of these amounted funds, totaling $29,923 for herself through 22 separate payments and another $10,653 for her husband through another six . 

Seven remaining unauthorized expenditure payments from the investigation report went to a separate employee from the College of Environmental Design totaling $17,115. 

According to the report, the Environmental Design professor also shipped to herself items without a clear academic reason for their purchase.

Among the items were dozens of planters, approximately 200 bags of container mix, trellises, a composter, a mulcher, canning supplies, cookbooks, a cheese making kit and nutribullet blender. 

Darren Loo | The Poly Post

According to the report, investigators asked about the purpose of the inventory and the professor replied that they were part of a research project studying the effects of people growing their own food. 

In an email, CSU spokesperson, Michael Uhlenkamp stated, “It’s our policy not to provide additional commentary on audit reports as the final, published reports are self-explanatory and serve as the final word on such matters.”

Eaton said that the professor’s alleged misconduct could’ve raised red flags about a lack of oversight by her supervisors in the College of Environmental Design. 

Sylvia Alva, who was provost of the college at the time of the investigation, is now the executive vice chancellor of Academic and Student Affairs for the CSU after being appointed in August of 2021. 

Alva did not respond to The Poly Post’s request for interview.  

In an email response to a whistleblower complaint filed in 2021 that criticized her initial response to the alleged misappropriation of funds, Coley defended the lack of prosecution or administrative consequences for the professor.

Coley wrote, “The investigation revealed that expenditures made from the particular Cal Poly Pomona Foundation program accounts appeared to be allowable based on the source of funds used, which constrained our ability to take certain personnel actions including referring the matter to a prosecuting authority.” 

But Eaton said he feels the real reason the administration did not want consequences in this and other cases was due to concern over its reputation.

“It’s the fear of being questioned,” Eaton said. “They don’t want to unlock the door to others coming in and looking and investigating.” 

Feature image by Darren Loo 

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