A former Fresno Unified School District employee has agreed to pay $196,390 in restitution after admitting that he stole federal funds intended to help English learners and immigrant students.
Ralph Peters, 48, of Clovis pleaded no contest to a felony charge of grand theft on Dec. 10 in Fresno County Superior Court. In exchange for his plea, the District Attorney's Office dismissed a felony charge of embezzlement by a public official.
In addition to paying restitution, Peters could get probation or up to a year in jail when he is sentenced Friday, said Jane Boulger, his attorney.
Peters declined to comment, but Boulger said: "He's completely devastated and feels totally ashamed."
Court records say Peters, who has no prior criminal record, forged signatures on the school district's purchase orders to obtain books, videos, pens and other school materials. He then displayed the items around his desk and sold them to employees.
He worked as budget technician at Fresno Unified from 1995 to 2005. A criminal complaint accused him of embezzling school district funds between July 3, 1997, and Oct. 11, 2005.
The theft was discovered when a district employee saw discrepancies in his work and notified supervisors, Fresno Unified spokeswoman Susan Bedi said.
An audit by certified public accountant Fausto Hinojosa discovered $234,000 was missing, including $164,590 in Title III federal funds for the district's English learners and immigrant students, court records said.
Once Hinojosa discovered the theft, Peters admitted his wrongdoing and signed a confession, court records said. In his confession, he admitted to taking Title III funds after September 2002.
Boulger, however, disputes the amount, saying that the theft is less than $100,000. She said the restitution takes into account the district's cost to investigate and hire the auditor.
Bedi said employees who purchased items from Peters didn't know they were stolen. She also said the district doesn't have a board policy against employees selling things at work, but employees know it is not appropriate.
The district has recouped the missing money because it has an insurance policy that covers crimes by employees, she said.
Boulger said she has never discussed with Peters what he did with the proceeds.
"He doesn't drink, do drugs or gamble," she said. "He takes care of his mother."
But he knows he has committed "a terrible crime," Boulger said, and accepted responsibility by pleading no contest without the benefit of a preliminary hearing or a trial. "It's an egregious act by my client, no doubt about it," Boulger said. "But he is a kind and decent man who did one bad thing in his life. It's totally out of character for him."