After firing for bribes, theft and fraud, California coach lining up $79,000 retirement parachute

Cameron Smith
Prep Rally

When Capistrano (Calif.) San Clemente High football coach Eric Patton resigned because of his alleged involvement with a money kickback scheme engineered by a local sportswear company, he left disgraced and sullied, his longheld reputation in tatters after the full details of his alleged ethical and financial violations aired throughout the local press in outlets like the Orange County Register and Los Angeles Times, which dug up all the sordid arrangements connected with Patton after whispers of his indiscretions first emerged in August.

Now, a full month later, Patton is lining up a fat $79,559 retirement bonus that appears due to him in June for a very basic reason: The appeal of his hiring has yet to be heard, and isn't likely to be finalized before he can officially retire in June.

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"If you understood the process, you understand there's still a hearing," Patton told the Register. "Until that time, I'm a member in good standing of the Capistrano Unified School District."

To call Patton a member in good standing may technically be true, but is a brazen stretch when one considers what he is accused of in recent years. Along with Capistrano (Calif.) High coaches Brent Melbon and Chi Chi Biehn, Patton stands accused of accepting lucrative bribes from a sports equipment company based near the schools. The trio also allegedly defrauded and stole thousands of dollars from the Capistrano School District, violating some nine state and federal laws in the process.

Because of the seriousness of the charges, Patton, Melbon and Biehn were all immediately put on paid leave, with the assumption being that their termination would be finalized as soon as their formal appeals were completed.

It turns out that is where the Capistrano District's plan has hit an unseemly snag. According to the Register, that appeals process can often take six months to a year because of the difficulty in arranging a hearing date in the state Office of Administrative Hearings. And until that state office hears his case, nothing can be done to keep Patton from applying for his retirement benefits and receiving them in due course.

"They're on paid leave, and until the hearing takes place, they are still entitled to pay and benefits," California Teachers Association spokesman Bill Guy told the Register. "Once the hearing takes place, if they're terminated, at that point they would no longer be on paid status."

By the time that happens, Patton is likely to have pulled another $79,000 from the Capistrano school district through an administrative loophole, a frustrating finale of a thoroughly unpleasant, seedy slice of American pie.

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