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Pasadena Unified suspends top construction official in billing investigation

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Pasadena Unified’s school board suspended its top school construction official Wednesday as it looks into allegations of overbilling by building contractors.

The board also cut short contracts with two construction firms and three consultants in connection with the investigation. The discrepancies could be in the “tens of thousands of dollars,” said Pasadena Unified board member Scott Phelps. "This is a very serious issue. That’s why we took the action that we did. Which is dramatic action,” Phelps said.

Chief Facilities Officer David Azcarraga, who has overseen the district’s program since 2011, has been placed on paid administrative leave. He could not be reached for comment.

Phelps said board members expect a complete investigation into the matter by the middle of next month.

This is the second time the school district has struggled with timecard discrepancies in its $350 million bond-funded construction program. Two years ago, a consultant was let go after billing for 28 days in a month, which Phelps said raised questions about the "quality" of his work.  

Other local school construction programs, which together are funded by tens of billions in voter-approved bonds, have had similar problems.

Pasadena City College fired two high-ranking officials earlier this year after an investigation revealed possible bribery and conflict of interest. After a state audit found $140 million in waste and mismanagement in the Los Angeles Community College District about two years ago, trustees fired the head of the program. In 2010 Bassam Raslan, a top L.A. Unified construction official, pled guilty to conflict of interest charges for hiring contractors who worked for his outside firm.

“Money is a very attractive thing,” Phelps said.