"Yeah, I accepted a check from Nancy," he says. "It looks like a scam to me now, but I didn't know where the check came from. It had my name on it, so I cashed it."
As he thinks about the woman whose actions landed him in jail for cashing fraudulent checks, he folds his arms across his chest and looks away. He appears younger than his 35 years, with wide, almond eyes and a patchy line of stubble along his chin. "She's got a big heart," he says, reflecting on the days when he knew Nancy Luu and her brothers from Lincoln High School in the Sunset. "Sure, she got me in trouble, but I don't blame her. She'll do anything for her friends. You ask for $3,000, she'll give it to you."
He begins leading his daughter and her friends across the street to his car. He says he hasn't seen Nancy for a long time. His lawyer has told him not to talk to her. The conversation has clearly soured his mood, but suddenly a smile flickers across his face. The kind of smile a lot of men seem to get when they think about Nancy Luu.
Indeed, Nancy Luu has an impact on men. Three of her male co-defendants described themselves as her boyfriend. A male business acquaintance became flustered when testifying about his relationship with her, repeatedly blushing. And she certainly seemed to cast a spell over her bosses, who either ignored, or just didn't notice, that Luu was spending enormous amounts of San Francisco State University money in very strange ways.
To those who knew her at State, Luu was a smart, attractive budget analyst working for the Educational Opportunity Program, a department that teaches young people from disadvantaged backgrounds how to succeed at the college level. She was considered a success story, the type of person who would be held up as an example for the students her department was trying to help.
Luu came to the university from a working-class family of Southeast Asian immigrants. A one-time contestant for the Miss Chinatown USA title, Luu excelled at academics, earning a bachelor's degree with a double major in international business and marketing in four years, and later a master's degree in education. During her first year at SFSU, she took a job as a student assistant and quickly climbed the administrative ladder until, at a relatively young age, she had almost complete control of the EOP's $1 million annual budget, and the respect and trust of her superiors. "People would always tell me how lucky I was to have such a qualified person," her supervisor recently said.
There aren't very many people making those kinds of comments now, because Luu has been charged with relieving the university of money in a variety of sophisticated and felonious ways. According to a grand jury indictment, she looted the university till to support a karaoke bar in the Tenderloin called Cafe Dang (or, sometimes, Cafe Thuy Duong), which evidently was a hangout for a fast crowd. Police say the place, open only at night, was a well-known haunt for Asian gang members, and had been busted for illegal gambling. The indictment also alleges Luu submitted hundreds of false claims for reimbursement, raided a petty cash fund, abused a university credit card, and put her mother, brother, and three boyfriends on the school's payroll.
In all, a grand jury has indicted Luu, her brother, and friends on 279 counts of forgery, fraud, misappropriation of funds, and credit card abuse. The District Attorney's Office has officially alleged that approximately $140,000 was taken, but university officials say the damage was more than $200,000. If convicted, Luu faces the possibility of serving up to 10 years in prison. (She is now out of jail on $100,000 bail; attempts to contact her for this story were unsuccessful.)
On its surface, the grand jury indictment charges Luu with multiple felonies; by implication, it also raises questions about her superiors' competence and/or complicity.
Years before she was indicted, Luu was sued by Wells Fargo Bank for defaulting on a loan she'd used to buy a 1987 Camaro. The bank eventually collected its money by garnishing Luu's wages from the university. A university auditor revoked Luu's office credit card for surpassing the university's purchasing limits six months before a formal investigation of her spending habits began. And Luu's immediate supervisors, Morris Head and Paul Mendez, signed off on every bill she asked the Educational Opportunity Program to pay, including dozens relating to items that the department would obviously never need, such as beer steins and ashtrays.
Luu has been fired, and faces possible imprisonment, but her bosses have avoided prosecution and continue to work as administrators at the university. So far, the District Attorney's Office seems convinced that her two immediate superiors simply placed too much trust in their employee. Luu was vested with an "extraordinarily strong degree of trust by her superiors," Assistant District Attorney Albert Murray told the grand jury, "maybe unreasonable."
The Educational Opportunity Program celebrated its 30th anniversary last year with a big party honoring the actor Danny Glover, a former student and an emblem of what can become of a poor black kid given the chance to succeed in college. The program had good reason to be proud: It has served as a prime source for the university's multicultural blend of students, considered by many to be the school's greatest asset.