NBC investigates San Mateo County Community College District chancellor

NBC Bay Area’s Vicky Nguyen questions Chancellor Ron Galatolo in the preview for their investigative piece airing at 11 p.m. PST on Nov. 23, 2015.

NBC Bay Area will be airing an investigation tonight at 11 p.m., suspecting San Mateo County Community College District Chancellor Ron Galatolo of using school funds for inappropriate expenses. Galatolo oversees operations at Skyline College and its sister schools, Cañada College and College of San Mateo. He has not been found guilty of any wrongdoing at this time and news of NBC’s investigation was a surprise to the Skyline community.

Barbara Christensen, SMCCCD director of community and government relations, confirmed that the NBC piece is regarding the district and Galatolo. She and Skyline College Public Information Officer Cherie Colin both said official statements on the matter will be forthcoming tomorrow. According to Galatolo, this will tell his side of the story and debunk what airs on NBC tonight.

“Wow, and that’s really about it because this is the first I’ve heard of it,” said Sam Sanchez, associate digital media professor at Skyline. “Ron Galatolo always seemed to be trustworthy, reliable and he was doing his best for the district and colleges, so this would be shocking.”

The preview of the piece makes references to the stashing of a sports car on school grounds as well as spending on alcoholic beverages and Las Vegas trips. In the 30 second preview of tonight’s investigation, NBC Bay Area reporter Vicky Nguyen asked Galatolo if he has charged alcohol to the district credit card. He responded that he “wasn’t quite sure.”

Nguyen will be reporting on whether the chancellor’s spending habits with public money is breaking the rules.

“Considering we don’t know exactly how they’ll blow this petty, insignificant matter out of proportion… it’s hard to comment until then,” Galatolo said in an email to The Skyline View.

According to district policy, grounds for disciplinary action include “dishonesty or theft,” “use or possession of controlled substances on the job,” as well as “conviction of and commitment for any criminal act.” Galatolo has not been found guilty of any of these things.

“I would be mad personally because this is money that should be going towards our education,” Skyline student Mia Perry said.

Misappropriation of funds in higher education has been the focus of investigations and disciplinary actions nationwide recently.

On Nov. 19, a former Florida State University professor, was convicted of embezzlement. In September, a criminal investigation was launched, focused on a MiraCosta College employee suspected of misusing approximately $7,000 in funds. In August a former employee of Meridian Community College in Mississippi was indicted on charges of embezzlement. That same month, an employee at Wilkes Community College in North Carolina was charged with five felony counts of embezzlement and seven felony counts of obtaining property by false pretense. In July, a former employee at College of Southern Idaho was sentenced to at least 10 years in prison for embezzling more than $530,000.

According to the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, data from 2012 shows that institutes of higher education ranked number five in rates of fraud out of 23 types of organizations.

“I’m waiting on more information, but if this were to be true it’s surprising because of everything that’s been going on with budget cuts,” Skyline Adjunct English Professor Grace Burns said.

The Skyline View will continue to report on this matter as more information is made available.

Laurel B. Lujan contributed information to this story