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A Piece of the Action 

How a bright and beguiling budget analyst allegedly fleeced a showcase minority aid program at SFSU

Wednesday, Mar 8 2000

Page 2 of 4

San Francisco State has prided itself on the diversity of its student body for decades, dating back to a faculty/student strike that shut down the college for four months in 1968 and 1969 over the suspension of a black teaching assistant who told his students to "kill all the slave masters." The nation's first black studies department was born from that period, as was the college's School of Ethnic Studies and the Educational Opportunity Program. Today, the university has one of the most diverse student populations among California colleges, with minorities making up 68 percent of the student body.

The Educational Opportunity Program doesn't just make it easier for minorities to gain entrance to the university. Once a year it hosts a workshop called "Summer Bridge," a five-week academic boot camp. The university pays for room, board, and materials for 120 incoming freshmen; these students take classes in English and math, as well as seminars on study skills. The program also supports "U-Can," an effort to actively recruit minority students from local high schools.

Like many other affirmative-action bureaucracies, the program is awash with a feel-good argot. In a 1996 newsletter, the program's tutoring center is called "A Special Place," and a graduate school seminar is called "Graduate Exploration." Morris Head, the program's former director, seemed particularly fond of exercising the touchy-feely jargon -- over and over again. In the newsletter, he writes: "I am very proud of the efforts being made by EOP staffpersons and students to enhance the educational empowerment of our communities. ... It is important that our communities join forces so that no one is denied an opportunity to empower themselves, their families and their communities."

The Educational Opportunity Program was no mere bureaucracy; it was a crusade, and both Morris Head and his deputy, Paul Mendez, in testimony before the grand jury, portrayed themselves as big-picture guys with little grasp of the department's budget or financial dealings. Head told the grand jury that Luu handled virtually all his paperwork, preparing the department's budget and controlling all money flowing in and out of the office.

Luu began at the EOP office in 1992 as a senior secretary, and became a budget analyst in 1994. When she took that job, she was just 25 years old, but had already worked in the school's bureaucracy for six years -- two in the university's budget office -- and was quite familiar with how the system operated. "She had received excellent recommendations," Donna Ryan, the university's human resources manager, told the jury. "Her work was good quality ... and her reviews were good."

Luu was so sharp, she was frequently asked to train budget analysts in other departments. "She impressed me as highly competent, efficient, organized ... a very strong person in that position," Head told the grand jury.

Every couple of days, Luu would bring Head or Mendez large piles of paperwork to sign, usually after lunch, when bureaucrats (and other people) tend to sink into sated dazes. Head and Mendez found themselves signing off on requisitions for catering or printing that carried descriptions such as "Refreshments for U-Can" or "Materials for Summer Bridge." These requests required invoices that would document the expenditure. But if Head asked for receipts, he clearly was not scrutinizing them very closely. Had he glanced at the requests, he should have noticed that many of them broke with the most basic office practices; others were simply ridiculous.

Luu turned in one bill for $1,398 of Chinese food. If Head had looked closely, he might have noticed that the time on the receipt was 9 p.m.

"Is it ordinary, that an event of the EOP go to a restaurant and spend almost $1,400?" Albert Murray asked Head during his appearance at the grand jury.

"No. Ha. That was something that was not done."

Another receipt submitted by Luu documents the purchase of a fruitcake -- for $84. Yet another included cookies, pizza, corn, margarine, and mustard -- groceries the office would never need.

Luu submitted dozens of these requests, ostensibly providing food for orientation programs for Summer Bridge and U-Can. If Head had thought about it for a minute, he might have remembered that food had not been served at such orientations for years.

Many of the requisitions turned in by Luu asked for payment to be made to a Tenderloin restaurant known as Cafe Dang. Head approved the payments, even though university protocol requires the use of campus vendors for food served at university events. Other checks went directly to Luu, as if she had spent thousands of dollars of her own money for EOP events.

If prosecutors are to be believed, Luu was both creative and prolific in her looting.

She submitted numerous bills from Thuy Duong Printing, even though university departments are required to use the campus bookstore for printing.

Luu mined the school's petty cash fund for thousands of dollars, tendering at least 97 receipts for $54.20 -- the precise maximum allowed, with inclusion of sales tax, in petty cash expenditures. Luu's superiors approved every receipt.

SFSU departments are allowed to submit several petty cash reimbursement requests at once, so long as the total payout is less than $200. Yvette MacPhee, the Educational Opportunity Program's advising coordinator, told the grand jury that she had turned in a petty cash request after she bought some decorated paper on sale for $6.50; Luu fattened the request to $155.70. "She said she couldn't get Morris Head to sign right away. She instructed me to give her the receipt ... and she would take care of the paperwork. Just sign here."

Even with two bosses willing to rubber-stamp whatever she put in front of their noses, Luu spread the money around. University checks went to Cafe Dang, and Cafe Thuy Duong, and Thuy Duong Printing, and she would mix up the addresses of these places, sometimes placing them in the Tenderloin, other times listing them at post office boxes, and yet other times putting them at the addresses of her three boyfriends: Reuben Flores, Hieu Sam, and Anthony Hang.

About The Author

Matt Isaacs


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