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School Officials Dragged Football Coach Through Mud, Supporters Say

Supporters of San Clemente High School's head football coach Eric Patton implore the Capistrano Unified School District to get all sides of the story in what the media have dubbed a "slush-fund scam."

Friends and relatives of embattled football coach Eric Patton criticized the at a board of trustees meeting Monday for “trying and convicting” the coach in the media.

In July, Superintendent Joseph Farley appeared on PBS SoCal, saying the school district might have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in an alleged “slush fund” scam. Without naming any coaches in the program, Farley said on the air that arrests might be appropriate.

“What I find incredibly disturbing is how this district is dragging [Patton] through the mud,” said Jim Berg, who was a walk-on coach at San Clemente High for 15 years. He credited Patton with driving his desire to coach.

The district put head coach Patton on administrative leave in mid-August, mere weeks before the start of football season, following a PBS investigation in spring that contended Patton and others were involved in a kickback scheme with a now-defunct sports equipment company.

District officials with parents of football players to explain what was happening with the program. Separate from an Orange County Sheriff’s Department criminal investigation, the school district launched its own probe and hired a private investigator.

About 20 people showed up to Monday's school board meeting in support of Patton. The item was not on the agenda, so the trustees could not discuss it or take action. District officials did not return messages after the meeting seeking comment for this story.

Berg said he doubted the district had done much investigation. “I think you’re trying and convicting Eric in the press. … It’s unconscionable what’s happening in this district.”

Patton’s son Ward also spoke to the board Monday night.

“It’s been pretty tough on my family in the last few months with these allegations,” he said. “You need to ask yourself if you have all the information and if it’s all correct. I know that it’s not correct.”

The younger Patton said school district officials failed to interview “key individuals” connected to the football program at San Clemente. “I’m imploring the board to make sure all the facts are there.”

Mark Klein said he was one of those people in the know who was never contacted. As president of the Triton Touchdown Club, he’s been in charge of the program’s finances for the past six years.

"Nobody ever called me and asked me any questions,” Klein told Patch after the meeting.

Tom Donnelly, a longtime member of the Tritons’ Booster Club and a member of law enforcement, told the board he was surprised district officials have used such words as “slush fund” and “embezzlement” in the media.

“We didn’t go into a backroom and talk about money and a slush fund. … It’s not a slush account. It’s money that went back into the program,” Donnelly said. He added that if Patton and other employees violated district policies and procedures, “those are not crimes.” He urged the board to get Patton back on the field coaching.

Klein said he expects trustees to make a decision about Patton’s employment with the district in the next few weeks.  

Patrick Rodgers September 14, 2011 at 11:38 AM
With budget cuts and school priorities, athletics has taken a big hit during the past five years. To keep the programs running, coaches, like Eric Pattton have had to be creative and think outside the box. To me the key element of this entire charade would be was the coach putting a big chunk of that money in his own pocket for personal gain, was an attempt made to hide the money, or did it go back into the athletic programs paying for things the kids wouldn't have had otherwise? The conduct of the Superintendent in shooting off his big mouth is inexcusable and if I were on the Board, he would be the one out the door. Get this mess cleaned up quickly and get the coach back on the field where he belongs.
Dan September 14, 2011 at 12:36 PM
Did Farley say anything about specifically about Patton to the press? The slush fund is illegal whether the the money was being put into coach's pockets or back into their programs at the school. This problem has been going on for close to a decade, long before any major economic downturn and or budget cuts. Let's also not forget that football, along with basketball, are a high school's two basic revenue producing sports. If this was a case of putting the money back into the football program at SCHS I personally can't see it as a case of Robin Hood stealing from the rich and giving it to the poor. In a district of 52000 students it doesn't seem right to skim tax dollars meant for all the students and then using it on only around 75 of them that play a certain sport at a certain high school. And just one question, I've heard that wives of coaches were cut checks from Lapes Athletics..... were the wives part of the athletics program too?
Matt Gaffney September 14, 2011 at 06:03 PM
I have known Eric Patton since 1964 when we were Freshman at Mater Dei. I've never known a more upstanding honorable man than him. His treatment at the hands of Jim Farley & CUSD is unconscionable. It's worth noting that the Murrietta Unified School District was presented the same information concerning their athletic programs. After a thorough investigation they concluded the charges were without merit. This is just the new superintendant trying to make a name for himself. The problems in the past with CUSD have always been at the Board level, not at the School level.
Ward Patton September 14, 2011 at 07:13 PM
NO TAX DOLLARS were skimmed. The funds came from football program donations and were used for the program. The district (tax dollars) only contribute about 10K a year and the rest of the necessary 200K come from football program donations. Coach Patton used those donation funds were needed, directly back into the program. I also know Coach Patton wrote personal checks for multiple players to attend the Hawaii game played every 3 years. Coach Patton did take a few early checks in 2001 & 2003 for about $500 of which he signed back over to the booster club. His wife has hosted multiple SC Football events every year since 1999 - her one and only check was a reimbursement. This "Slush Fund" was actually a reserve account that was fully funded by donated money. NO TAX or DISTRICT MONEY was any part of this reserve account. This was already proved. Every summer the SC Football program host a month long optional camp that cost the players about 150 bucks. Eric Patton is the DBA of that account and has NEVER written himself a check out of that private fund - he always dispersed the funds back into the program. The shield of ignorance is not an excuse = "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor." If you are going to post comments and add to this pathetic public witch hunt please make sure you are informed. I am listed and very easy to find if anyone has any questions about the ACTUAL FACTS. -Ward Patton
kevin September 15, 2011 at 12:44 AM
The silence of all the other programs that have not punished one other coach is deafening. To me this is an obvious overreaction by the district. Once again CUSD proves itself imcompetant and has managed to hurt the reputation of a good leader, teacher, coach, dad, grandfather. While I believe they can remove a coach "without cause" I don't believe they can defame him. I sure hope Coach Patton and the other coaches do take action to restore their good names if the district is going to continue in this reckless direction. I sure hope after the time, effort and care that I have shown my job and employers that if something came up they would give me the opportunity to explain myself and fully conduct their full due diligence before taking this kind of action against me. I sure as hell would not want to coach in this environment with this type of district leadership.
Danny Z September 17, 2011 at 12:35 AM
I have known Eric Patton and the Patton family all my life. The way with which the CUSD is conducting itself is agregious, yet not surprising in the least. Jim Farley, with his selfish and reckless agenda, is abusing the power of his seat to defame a man who epitomizes the kind of character that is so desparately needed in the very seat that Farley currently holds. I believe that justice will prevail in the end...but with the kind of snakes that have slithered their way onto the CUSD board, it could take longer than normal. Godspeed Coach! My family and I are behind you and yours 100%.
Kevin Johansen September 17, 2011 at 07:34 PM
Funny that the "private investigator" hired is a close, personal friend of CUSD Superintendent Joseph Farley. Usually when there is any type of investigation, ALL sides are contacted to gather facts then its possible to draw some sort of conclusion. Very disturbing to know that the Sando family can make a bad business choice investing in a failing company then drag that companies customers through the mud. Best part is the fact Geoff Sando was the L.A.T.S. accountant!
Capo mom September 18, 2011 at 06:26 PM
http://www.ocregister.com/news/patton-317567-lapes-company.html Co-mingled funds with his "private camp", sloppy change orders and accounting procedures, checks to friends and family members (Ward Patton is specifically mentioned as a recipient). Has a PhD but it never occurred to him that he did anything wrong or anyone was losing anything. He pleads lack of instruction, policy, organization. And I wonder how attendees of his private camp were starters? Sounds like pay to play to me.
Ward Patton September 19, 2011 at 04:11 AM
Capo mom, It appears you have an opinion but, lack intelligence. I did receive checks - I worked for the SC program for the last 10 years filming every home and away game. This was paid by donations NOT district funds. A proven fact. The coaches could not have known what Bill Lapes was doing with his books. So you can NOT say Eric Patton co-mingled funds. Eric Patton is a only guilty of putting his heart, time and his OWN money into the local high school football programs over the last 30 years. NO personal monetary gain was obtained by his actions. See you all in court... Get a life and go away Capo mom.
Capo mom September 19, 2011 at 05:33 AM
Perhaps you need to spend a little more effort reading up on the issue. If you look at the documents provided by the Register, LAPES issued several checks from Patton's slush fund directly to members of the Patton family. http://files.onset.freedom.com/ocregister/news/2011/09/Patton_checks_23.pdf I counted at least 6 made out directly to Ward Patton. According to the article and own Eric Patton's testimony, this was done at his (Eric Patton's) direction. I am truly sorry that your father put you and your family in this situation. But that doesn't change the fact that he did.
Paul Shaheen September 19, 2011 at 02:39 PM
It's unfortunate, and hopefully very obvious, that Capo mom is an "I believe everything I read in the newspaper" kind of person. Newspapers make money selling newspapers. In the internet age, newspapers are not selling and most are going out of business! The Register, I assume, is no different and needs to proliferate supposed "scandals" like this to sell their paper and stay in business. Unfortunately they perform such actions without regard to the people's lives they destroy along the way....scandals sell newspapers and keep business going...bottom line. I assume Capo mom is a lost cause, but not a singular case, because getting educated on a given subject takes time and effort and personal integrity to find the truth, and it doesn't sound like she is willing or capable, in my opinion. However, hopefully the rest of the readers of this page and other onlookers to this terrible situation will take the high road and allow the real facts of the case to come out before they join the uninformed witch hunt against such a great man and family as Coach Eric Patton and his.
Paul Shaheen September 19, 2011 at 02:59 PM
Coach Patton and his family have selflessly given to the Orange County community for over 30 years through coaching football and teaching young men lessons on integrity, courage, discipline, etc, etc, etc. The players he has coached are now your local policemen, firemen, teachers, and many other community functions that make Orange County the world class county that it is. Coach Eric Patton is an NFL level leader who has instead chosen a life dedicated to H.S. coaching and turning young boys to men to help them face life's challenges. I personally have known the family for 25 years and am a very fortunate former player to Coach Eric Patton. Over the years, I, as countless others had many coaches in sports...football, baseball, track, little league through college. Coach Eric Patton was by far the finest coach and most honorable man I've had the pleasure to be associated with. There are thousands of former and current players that will attest to the same. If you care anything about your own personal integrity and maintaining a semblance of common courtesy to a selfless veteran and proven community leader such as Coach Eric Patton is, you will please withhold judgement until the real facts of this case are exposed. Coach Patton, everyone you've touched over the years is behind you in this latest adversity. Great men are tested with even greater challenges, and I am confident you will rise to the occasion and defeat this latest adversity.
Matt Gaffney September 19, 2011 at 04:43 PM
Well said Paul. Farley's making Jim Fleming look good.
Capo mom September 19, 2011 at 05:25 PM
In Patton's own words, given in a sworn deposition "Patton refused to comment when contacted by PBS SoCal. But he admitted to the slush fund during a 2009 deposition in the civil case filed by the Sandos against Lapes. Here is a transcript of that deposition: SANDO'S ATTORNEY: "And how did it come about that those payments were made to those people -- in those amounts -- who gave the direction for that?" PATTON: "Bill [Lapes] asked me who should get the money and I told him that those were the people that should receive those checks." SANDO'S ATTORNEY: "Are these -- again -- part of the slush fund that you've described?" PATTON: "Yes." SANDO'S ATTORNEY: "When these coaches received money from Lapes Athletic Team Sales -- was any report given to the school?" PATTON: "No." SANDO'S ATTORNEY: "Was any report given to C-I-F. PATTON: "No." SANDO'S ATTORNEY: "Was any report given to anyone." PATTON... "No." http://voiceofoc.org/oc_south/article_36ebae54-76dc-11e0-8633-001cc4c002e0.html
Capo mom September 19, 2011 at 05:27 PM
How do Patton's supporters interpret this?
Matt Gaffney September 19, 2011 at 05:30 PM
Do you even know Eric Patton? If you did your questions would be moot.
Shripathi Kamath September 19, 2011 at 05:36 PM
Not a Patton supporter (or adversary), but I think that you may be talking past the point at least one supporter raised. What he said was that there is no dispute that there was a slush fund. What he is disputing is that that slush fund contained taxpayer or district money, or that if it did, he is saying that Patton was unaware of it. Do you dispute that characterization? Your citation above does not shed any light on the constitution of the slush fund. Merely that it existed and Patton (as do his supporters) acknowledge that it existed. http://missionviejo.patch.com/articles/school-officials-dragged-football-coach-through-the-mud-supporters-say#comment_1417241
OCPraetorian September 19, 2011 at 05:46 PM
Lapes added extra money to the cost of equipment that was paid for by the district. Lapes then returned the money to the coaches. Whether the money went into the program is irrelevant -- coaches were stealing from the district by knowingly charging the district for more money than the equipment cost, to pad the slush fund. Ward, please explain why, if this is all legit, parents were charged extra for the spirit packs, etc., to create the slush fund? Did they all know it? Why not just let them make a contribution to the non profit booster club so they could write it off on their taxes? The rules were circumvented. It seemed so cute and clever -- but it was illegal.
Capo mom September 19, 2011 at 05:59 PM
That isn't much of an explanation.
Ward Patton September 20, 2011 at 04:25 AM
This was a half a page of a 109 page (or so) deposition that defeated the Santos' lawsuit against the Lapes boys and SC Football invoices. This was in Dec of 2009. All was explained and held up in court. This small clip was cherry picked by PBS to make a story. These were answers to checks withdrawn from the privately funded football fund - not tax or district money. I don't have to read about it Capo mom - I AM LIVING IT - please stop commenting on half truths and comments taken out of context. Your regurgitation of false information is annoying. Regards, -Ward Patton (Not hiding behind a fake/posting name)
Capo mom September 20, 2011 at 05:28 AM
Ok so I have apologize. I don't have all of the facts and I am feeling bad about what I have said. I have heard many good things about coach Patton and know he is a good man. I am just very bitter because my son was never good at football and not good enough to make it.
Ward Patton September 20, 2011 at 05:56 AM
Apology accepted on behalf of all of us in this worthy cause. Receiving a mothers unconditional love and affection is more important than scoring touchdowns anyways. Hopefully. we will see you at the next board meeting (Sept 26th) with your new found support for Eric Patton.
Shripathi Kamath September 20, 2011 at 07:35 AM
Oh don't do that! Capo mom, you disappoint me. I was hoping for more fireworks. Surely there is something you can do besides being sarcastic.
Capo mom September 20, 2011 at 01:57 PM
That is pretty funny. There are lots of Capo moms, I guess. And imitation is the sincerest form of flattery ; ) You are right about one thing - my son wouldn't cut it in the SCHS football program. He is kind of young for it. I have heard lots of things about Patton ... just call me skeptical of information coming from people who were involved in this scam. One thing I'd love to hear from Patton's supporters is an explanation of his testimony posted above. Maybe our new Capo mom can dish on that.
Capo mom September 22, 2011 at 03:41 AM
Your welcome and well said. Your comment about unconditional love makes me realize that I really should be attending to my young son by doing homework with him or reading him a book rather than wasting my time on this post trying to defame an innocent man. I won't be able to make the next board meeting because I do not want to reveal my identity and embarrass myself and my family any further but good luck to you.
BeachGirl September 22, 2011 at 04:10 AM
Capo mom, did you even notice that the first chance coach ERIC Patton got to extend forgiveness toward you for all of your comments he did? Whether or not you offered him an apology or not isn't the point. You have spent pages defaming him and the first chance he had to be kind he DID instead of tearing you apart. THAT shows his character. Does that sound like someone who practices being "immoral"??? A thief? A liar? I think not... and so do thousands of others.
Chris Fore October 02, 2011 at 03:54 AM
I'm a big Eric Patton fan. But maybe Murrieta cleared their coaches because a long time Murrieta high school AD worked for Lapes when he retired. Maybe that is why everything was sorted out and cleared very quick there? I do agree, the district has NOT handled this case very well. I got to know Coach Patton a bit over the last 5 years, and can testify that he is a great man.
Chris Fore October 02, 2011 at 03:55 AM
Every program worth its salt has a camp Capo mom, every program. It has nothing to do with the ridiculous "pay to play" propaganda out there by parents like you.
OC Football Mom October 16, 2011 at 01:37 AM
If you were paid for filming games, then how come you received a Jan.10th 2002 check for $400 and a Dec. 24th, 2002 check also for $400 directly from Lapes Athletic Team Sales? The copies of these checks to you along with the others to your family members and various SCHS recipients are displayed on the SoCal PBS website.

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