Former SFUSD leader pleads guilty to felonies in $15M scandal

(S.F. Examiner file photo)

The former San Francisco public school leader who admitted in court this week to playing a part in the alleged misuse of $15 million in public money has collected an annual pension of more than $100,000 since her retirement as the scandal unfolded in 2010.

Trish Bascom, a former associate superintendent for the San Francisco Unified School District, pleaded guilty Monday to 10 felonies including counts of forgery, embezzlement, perjury and fraudulent claims, which will likely mean she has to return some of her pension.

For the last decade of her 28-year-long career, Bascom participated in an alleged scheme alongside five other then-employees in the Student Support Services division to divert grant funds into “slush fund” accounts hidden at nonprofit community organizations, according to the District Attorney’s Office.

“Defrauding the public school system comes at the expense of institutions that are fundamental to the future of our children,” District Attorney George Gascon said in a statement. “The needs and interests of our city’s kids must come first.”

While just $250,000 of the diverted public funds were allegedly misappropriated for personal use, the rest was improperly shuffled into employee bonuses, technology upgrades and the slush fund account of a prospective employer for Bascom, prosecutors said.

Bascom, 70, retired in June 2010, according to the SFUSD, the same summer the school district launched an investigation into spending in her division. Since then, she has received some $529,000 in pension payouts from the California State Teachers’ Retirement System.

The retirement system is funded primarily through investments alongside teacher, employer and state contributions.

According to her attorney, Stuart Hanlon, Bascom’s retirement had nothing to do with the investigation. The school district forced her to retire prior to the investigation and notified her in March or April 2010 that her contract would not be renewed, he said.

“It’s just what we call one of the strange coincidences in life,” Hanlon said.

A CalSTRS spokesperson said an employee who commits a felony while on official duties would likely have to return part of their pension, determined based on when the crime was committed.

Bascom was the highest-ranking employee implicated in the scandal. According to the school district, measures have been put in place to prevent future wrongdoing of the sort.

Hanlon said Bascom helped to build a bustling Student Support Services Division and brought in millions of previously unseen dollars.

“The problem was with her, she was a nurse, she had no training in bookkeeping and economics,” Hanlon said.

Bascom began to pay herself back with public money for personal items she purchased alongside food for events, for example, according to Hanlon. She also gave bonuses to herself and co-workers with money in accounts designated for community organizations.

“She did things that I felt as a lawyer we were not able to defend,” he said.

Linda Lovelace, who was also a senior executive director, former Principal Administrative Analyst Lilian Capuli and former Assistant Principal Mychel Navales are still facing related charges.

As part of her plea deal, Bascom agreed with prosecutors to corroborate the ongoing cases against her former colleagues, Hanlon said.

“I think ultimately Trish is going to be ashamed,” Hanlon said. “She actually did very great stuff … This woman’s career and reputation is destroyed.”

Bascom faces up to five years of incarceration.

Senior Executive Director Meyla Ruwin and then-clerk Betty Wong, previously pleaded guilty in relation to the scheme.

Ruwin pleaded to three felonies for embezzlement and forgery, while Wong pleaded to one felony count of falsifying public records, according to court records.

Wong also retired in 2010 and last year received a pension of $56,598, state records show.

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