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EDITORIAL: Prosecutors must demand full restitution in school district theft case

There are so many reasons to be outraged by the Clark County School District theft operation alleged to have been carried out by Priscilla Rocha and four others, a taxpayer can’t know where to begin.

The defendants face dozens of charges in connection with the theft of $289,000 from the Clark County School District, dating to 2005. As reported Tuesday by the Review-Journal’s Trevon Milliard, the 66-year-old Rocha, now retired as director of the district’s Adult English Language Acquisitions Services program, was charged with 26 counts of theft and 24 counts of unlawful use of public money. Her son, Jerome Rocha of New Mexico, faces 10 theft counts, as does Donnie Placencia, also of New Mexico. Las Vegan Andres Mendoza has three charges against him, and Las Vegan Jaime Espitia faces two charges. Everyone but Espitia was released without bail.

Mr. Milliard and the Review-Journal’s Jeff German reported Saturday that, according to grand jury transcripts, Ms. Rocha sneaked nearly $14,000 worth of computers across the Mexican border and delivered them to a library and a school for children with autism in Ensenada. The transcripts show that in 2011, Rocha made four trips to Ensenada — just a bit outside the school district’s jurisdiction.

Rocha also directed the installation of a video surveillance system at Mendoza’s house using district funds and had secret cameras placed in her office. Rocha also is alleged to have used $5,000 in school district money to help buy a beauty salon and have one of her program employees work there on school district time.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Rocha is alleged to have paid ghost employees tens of thousands of dollars, including a whopping $132,870 to Placencia for being a tutor five days a week — while living in New Mexico. The school district placed the money into an account shared by Placencia and Jerome Rocha. She allegedly created a fake company, billing the school district for services and funneling the money into her own account.

It is maddening to the public to see this kind of abuse of resources, especially from a department with such a questionable mission in the first place. The public provides a $1.1 million budget to teach English to adults within a district that struggles mightily just to teach children. This isn’t merely a breach of public trust by the five people now facing charges and the one — former school district information technology specialist Manuel Ramirez — who struck a plea deal and cooperated with investigators. Rocha and her department should have been answering to someone higher up the chain of command. Someone in the school district should have sniffed out this years-long scheme much earlier.

If Rocha and her co-defendants are convicted, full restitution must be made. Every last dime must go back into the school system. Rocha resigned shortly after her program was shut down in March, but she’s still collecting paychecks courtesy of taxpayers. According to TransparentNevada.com, she started collecting her pension from the Public Employees’ Retirement System — to the tune of almost $6,000 a month the past three months, which works out to $70,000 annually for the rest of her life. And this after she collected six-figure compensation in each of the past five years.

If Rocha is found guilty, there’s no way she can claim an inability to pay restitution. Moreover, her case should compel the 2015 Legislature to require the garnishment or termination of pensions of employees who are convicted of malfeasance against the taxpaying public.

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