Hanretty pleads no contest to six felonies | August 8, 2012 | Almanac | Almanac Online |



News - August 8, 2012

Hanretty pleads no contest to six felonies

by Renee Batti

Former Portola Valley schools superintendent Tim Hanretty is still likely to serve county jail time even if he avoids state prison after pleading no contest to six felony charges stemming from his work at the Portola Valley and Woodside school districts. The felonies include embezzling $101,000 from the Portola Valley district.

      Steve Wagstaffe, San Mateo County's district attorney, said that even though Judge Mark Forcum indicated during Mr. Hanretty's July 31 plea hearing that he would strongly consider a probationary sentence if the former superintendent made substantial restitution before his Oct. 11 sentencing, probation can include up to a year in county jail.

         "If he got probation with no time — that would be totally out of step with what the case deserves," Mr. Wagstaffe said. "This is a violation of public trust."

         After last week's court hearing, Mr. Hanretty's attorney, Mike Markowitz, said his client "fully intends to pay the full amount back." When asked by a reporter how much that would be, Mr. Markowitz cited the $101,000 amount Mr. Hanretty embezzled from the Portola Valley district to pay for construction work on his Woodside home.

         But Mr. Wagstaffe said that his office wants Mr. Hanretty to repay at least a portion of interest now burdening the Woodside district as a result of Mr. Hanretty's falsifying papers to take out a school construction loan for nearly $2 million more than what was authorized by the school board. He said Mr. Markowitz's position is likely to be "a significant issue" as the sentencing hearing approaches.

         "There's the indebtedness that he ran up," he said. "Why should the taxpayers have to pay for that?"

         After the court hearing, Mr. Markowitz noted that his client had not stolen any money from the Woodside district, where he served for a number of years as the chief business officer. The district "got 100 percent benefit from that loan. ... There was no loss. The district got what (it) paid for," Mr. Markowitz said.

         The attorney's claim that no money was stolen from the Woodside district echoes the conclusion announced by the DA's office after auditors pored over the Woodside district financial records of the school construction project.

         Karen Guidotti, chief deputy district attorney, said the probation department will determine the amount of appropriate restitution, and will present a recommendation to the court. The determination will be based in part on what the school districts request, she said.

         With the plea deal, two of three felony charges stemming from the Woodside case were dropped; the remaining count was misappropriation of public funds. One of six felony charges was dropped in the Portola Valley case.

         Mr. Hanretty remains out of custody after posting bail.

         Mr. Hanretty was appointed superintendent of the Portola Valley School District in 2010, succeeding Anne Campbell after she became superintendent of county schools. He resigned his post in January after the DA's office launched its investigation of the misappropriation of funds from his tenure with the Woodside district.

         A subsequent investigation of the Portola Valley district finances turned up the theft of public funds as well as numerous bookkeeping irregularities that overstated the district's available funds.


'Philosophical dilemma'

      Although the judge capped the possible state prison term at four years, "we wanted the plea to be open for the full nine years," Mr. Wagstaffe said, referring to the maximum sentence Mr. Hanretty had faced before the plea bargain.

         Mr. Wagstaffe said that, in recent years, the trend for judges has been to focus on "making the victim whole" by compelling the wrongdoer to make restitution. This sometimes involves shortening prison time to give the convicted person the ability to raise the money to repay his or her victims.

         "It's a real philosophical dilemma," he said, noting that the trend sometimes puts judges and prosecutors at odds.


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