Foundation president seeks to clear group’s name
O’Kelly presented a pair of letters — one from the Sierra Pacific Foundation and one from LCC wrestling coach Rex Branum — clarifying two donations to the foundation questioned by the grand jury earlier this year.
According to one letter, Sierra Pacific Foundation made a $17,000 donation to the foundation on Feb. 26, 2003 with the understanding the money would be used for scholarships.
According to the other letter, Branum made an anonymous $21,000 donation to the foundation to be used in an unrestricted manner.
O’Kelly said neither he nor any of the board members are not cops, and they don’t have guns, badges or the jurisdiction to question the source of funds individuals or organizations want to donate.
“As a foundation, we live and die by public perception,” O’Kelly said. “We depend upon donations. Who wants to donate money to an outfit that’s being investigated by the grand jury for fraud?”
And that’s where the wicket gets sticky. To the grand jury, these two contributions looked questionable, but O’Kelly said there’s really nothing unusual about them.
“It’s not my job to look a gift horse in the mouth,” O’Kelly said. “As far as I’m concerned the foundation received clean money, but the grand jury’s claim of fraud made it my job. Now, it would be really nice if the grand jury would retract its call for a fraud investigation.
“We’re doing what we’re supposed to do with the money we collect. I’ve had verbal assurances from investigators who said the foundation’s out-go of funds is pristine and spotless. We get in the paper, and it makes headlines, but I can’t blame the paper, because that’s what the grand jury said. It’s all about politics. It’s all about power. It doesn’t seem right or fair to me.”
According to O’Kelly, the foundation has given $72,000 to students in scholarships and book allowances over the past two years. He said the money goes directly to the college and not to the students.
“The college gets the money, anyway,” O’Kelly said.
According to the 2005/2006 Lassen County Grand Jury report, “In January of 2003, a Kato generator valued at $18,000 was sold to Sierra Pacific Industries. The president arranged for Sierra Pacific Industries to pay the college $1,000 and to pay the foundation $17,000. This sale represents a fit of public funds to a non-profit organization.”
Dr. Homer Cissell, LCC’s president, tells a different story regarding the generator sale.
According to Cissell, the LCC Board of Trustees, by a 6-1 vote, determined the value of the generator was $1,000. He said it was a 30-year-old generator, and the college didn’t even know if it still worked.
Cissell said the board’s 6-1 vote was improper because, according to state law, the board needs a 7-0 vote to establish an item’s value at less than $5,000.
“It’s a murky mess,” for that reason Cissell said. “Somebody’s trying to make it look like somebody benefited. That was not the intent. The board sold the generator for $1,000. I don’t have the power as president to act unilaterally, and I couldn’t sell the generator without the board’s approval. Then the Sierra Pacific Foundation donated $17,000. Those are two separate entities.”
O’Kelly’s position is similar to Cissell’s.
“The college sold the generator to Red Emerson for $1,000,” O’Kelly said. “Then, after the fact, the Sierra Pacific Foundation donated $17,000 to the Lassen College Foundation. The money came from the foundation, not from Sierra Pacific Industries. It’s an arm’s length deal. Sierra Pacific Industries didn’t buy the generator for $18,000, pay the college $1,000 and then give the difference to the foundation.”
According to the grand jury report, “Also in January of 2003, $21,000 was donated to the foundation from the J. Robinson Wrestling Corporation.”
Both Cissell and O’Kelly said the grand jury is confused.
In Branum’s letter, dated Dec. 15, 2005, the wrestling coach wrote, “I have been informed that there exists some question regarding the $21,000 donation made to the Lassen College Foundation. I would like to clarify any misunderstanding regarding this donation. I personally organized the support of a J. Robinson camp on the campus of Lassen College. For the services rendered by me, Mr. Robinson provided me with a check for $21,000. As this sum represents money paid to me for services I provided outside of my contract with Lassen College, as with all other coaches performing such activities, I may expend this money in any manner I see fit.
“Therefore, I openly state that this donation was made to the Lassen College Foundation to be used by them in an unrestricted manner. Originally, this donation was to be listed as anonymous. However, with everything that has transpired from the audit to the Chancellor’s Office investigation, my request to remain anonymous has been compromised. I find this unfortunate.”
“It was supposed to be an anonymous donation to the foundation,” O’Kelly said. “Somebody thought it came from the wrestling camp, but it didn’t. The money came from someone else.”
Cissell said the college sent the grand jury every check stub, bill and register regarding the wrestling camp.
“We billed them something like $71,000,” Cissell said, “and they paid us something like $71,000. Somebody is trying to paint the picture the $21,000 should have gone to the college. If the camp gave $21,000 to an individual, that’s between the camp and the individual. If an individual wants to donate money to the foundation, that’s between the individual and the foundation. If we charge the camp and they pay us what they owe, that finalizes any business relationship they might have with the college.”
O’Kelly hopes to put the issue to rest once and for all.
“All I’m worried about is the students,” O’Kelly said.
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