[UPDATED: San Clemente Coach Football Coach "Removed"] CUSD Confirms Coach Kickback Scheme; Investigation Moving to Sheriff's Department

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UPDATE, AUG. 18, 6:22 P.M.: The first axe has fallen. After 11 years as the head coach of the San Clemente High football team, Eric Patton has relieved of his duties as a result of his involvement in an elaborate kickback scandal, OC Register reported.

Patton remains an employee of CUSD, but it is unclear whether he will ever teach or coach at SCHS or in the district again.

ORIGINAL POST, JULY 18, 2:19 P.M.: In early May, a report from PBS SoCal shed light on a possible kickback scandal involving numerous OC high school and junior college athletic coaches, and a Laguna Niguel-based athletic equipment retailer. The receipts in a box labeled "Slush Fund" pointed to tens of thousands of dollars being overpaid for athletic equipment from Lapes Athletic Team Sales and then given back to the coaches. 

Three school districts were involved in the scandal. Capistrano Unified School District was the first to begin an investigation into the matter. After a nine-month investigation, which began in the fall of 2010, CUSD acknowledged that the accusations brought forth by Geoff and Teresa Sando appear to have merit, according to a report by the OC Register.

Last week, CUSD's superintendent, Joe Farley, told the Register that the investigation did uncover what appears to be "criminal misconduct," and that the issue was going to be turned over to the Orange County Sheriff's Department.

Two CUSD coaches featured prominently in the PBS report: Chi Chi Biehn of Capistrano Valley High and Eric Patton of San Clemente High. When the Weekly inquired about Patton's status following his involvement in the scandal in May, CUSD said there had been no change to his status as head football coach or as an employee with the district. Biehn also remains an employee in the district.

Marcus Walton, CUSD's chief communications officer, said by email that "appropriate action will be taken when and if warranted."

Each of the districts involved launched investigations into the matter.

"In this country you're innocent until proven guilty," said William Habermehl, the superintendent of Orange County schools. "There's nothing worse than to a remove a football coach or a basketball coach or any coach with a [summer] session coming up."

Habermehl acknowledged that the schools and districts involved are facing a "difficult and challenging situation," but that no steps would be taken until a full investigation by the Sheriff's Department is complete. 

In some cases, funds doled out discreetly to coaches by Lapes was used for team-related expenses, according to Habermehl. "We have to correct that," he said. "Coaches can't be using taxpayer money without any monitoring or oversight."

Habermehl said that most of the coaches involved just showed "poor judgement" in being involved at all. "We have a few [coaches] we're very concerned about," Habermehl admitted. "We hope in the next few weeks we'll know more."
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