The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office is focusing its community college fraud investigation on professors and how they fill their classes.
Deputies have been looking into the Maricopa County Community College District for nearly a year, but the Faculty Association, which represents all full-time professors, now says its members have come under particular scrutiny.
“In the past few weeks, we have had a number of MCCCD faculty contacted by law enforcement officers at their homes,” Reyes Medrano, the association’s president, wrote to all members Dec. 7. The professors have reported that deputies questioned them about “enrollment irregularities in their classes.”
“The faculty members were a little shaken by the whole experience,” said Barry Vaughn, incoming association president.
Capt. Paul Chagolla, a spokesman for the sheriff’s office, declined to comment because the investigation is ongoing.
“This is a large investigation,” Chagolla said. “It’s complex, but it is still moving forward.”
Medrano encouraged members to make use of the association’s attorney before speaking with investigators.
A follow-up e-mail, which Medrano sent to association members Dec. 10, said that numerous people had recently asked about getting legal counsel.
“We don’t want to appear as if we’re hampering an investigation or anything like that, because we’re not interested in doing that whatsoever,” said Vaughn, a Mesa Community College philosophy professor. “We want to be cooperative. But we also want people to know that they shouldn’t feel intimidated, that they have a right to have counsel present.”
Enrollment fraud has been a troublesome subject for the district.
Last year, a Tribune series detailed how a Scottsdale Community College performing arts program falsified enrollment to keep itself afloat for several years. The program’s director, Steven Meredith, and 16 other SCC employees signed up for classes to protect them from cancellation.
The district attempted to fire Mesa Community College’s media arts director, Cyndi Greening, in August over allegations that she committed enrollment fraud by teaching two different classes at the same time and place.
Greening argued that the arrangement helped students graduate and that she didn’t collect any extra pay.
The district settled with Greening earlier this month and agreed to pay her $10,000.
MCCCD now requires its instructors to file disclosures about their enrollment practices each year.
The faculty association initially opposed the disclosures, arguing that the questions were vague, and asked members not to complete them. The professors ultimately complied after negotiating changes.
The sheriff’s office raided several Maricopa County colleges and district headquarters in January. Deputies seized records and other materials, including files from MCCCD Chancellor Rufus Glasper’s computer.
Just weeks later, Glasper fired two longtime college presidents named as targets in the deputies’ search warrants.
“They collected so many records that I’m sure it’s going to take them a long time to go through them all,” Vaughn said.