FORT WORTH -- The Texas attorney general's office is conducting a criminal investigation into whether Tarrant County College mishandled state funding for a program designed to train employees for specific jobs.
The allegations apparently involve TCC Corporate Services, the college's job-training arm, including that it may have overbilled the state for classes offered and collected payment for classes that its instructors didn't teach.
The attorney general's office would not say whether an investigation is under way.
But several letters from the office obtained through an open-records request by the Star-Telegram state that the documents the newspaper is seeking can't be released because "it would interfere with a pending criminal investigation being conducted by the OAG's Criminal Investigations Division."
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"As is our long-standing policy, we do not comment upon or acknowledge investigations," said Thomas Kelley, a spokesman for the attorney general.
TCC alludes to a law enforcement investigation in several letters to the attorney general in which it requests that documents be withheld from the Star-Telegram, including any internal memos about excessive billing for classes under grant contracts conducted by its employees.
"TCCD [Tarrant County College District] believes that the withheld documents are held by a law enforcement agency in an ongoing investigation and are documents excepted from disclosure," a letter Wednesday from the college's lawyers to the attorney general states.
Bill Lace, vice chancellor for administration for TCC, said he can't comment on the issues in Corporate Services because of an investigation. "It is an ongoing investigation," Lace said. "We can't comment on any facets of that."
Corporate Services offers a number of training courses for businesses, including computer classes, English as a second language and Microsoft Office. It also offers companies customized training programs.
Concerns about the program surfaced in July 2009 when Harry Johnson, an account executive for Corporate Services, questioned whether class hours were being falsified, whether the college submitted state funding for apprenticeship programs that weren't allowed by the Texas Workforce Commission rules and whether the college submitted credit for state-funded workforce courses that TCC instructors weren't teaching.
Johnson could not be reached for comment.
Documents obtained by the Star-Telegram through open-records requests indicate that the college district looked into the matter, and a TCC executive summary from September 2009 outlines allegations and major findings about Corporate Services. It states that no illegal activity was discovered. But the summary lists several recommendations to ensure that the program works within state rules and enhances transparency.
"Based on evidence presented and reviewed, there were no findings to support allegations that Corporate Services administrators submitted Corporate Services courses for funding that were fraudulent, illegal or unethical," the summary states.
When contacted by the Star-Telegram, several TCC trustees said they were aware of the attorney general's investigation.
"The college is concerned and we are cooperating and we want a resolution as quickly as possible," said Trustee Louise Appleman. She said the college hired an internal auditor last year to make sure it had strong oversight of the state and federal grant funding.
"We have taken a proactive approach to monitoring programs and processes to ensure to the best possible level that all departments are following the law and college policy," Appleman said.
Board President Joe Hudson said he can't discuss the situation because it is an ongoing investigation. He said the board has hired new leadership, reviewed policies and established an audit committee to make improvements and increase oversight.
Trustee O.K. Carter said he was aware that the attorney general was involved but not aware of any recent developments. He recused himself from an executive session discussion about Corporate Services because he had briefly helped it develop curriculum for a General Motors retraining program.
Talk of problems within Corporate Services resurfaced last fall with the resignation of its director, Linda Garcia. Garcia, who earned $81,775, oversaw training programs with businesses. She could not be reached for comment.
Also resigning at that time was Kathleen Noble, associate vice chancellor of continuing education. Noble made $123,129 and she supervised Corporate Services.
Noble, reached by phone Thursday, said she wasn't aware of an attorney general investigation. She said no one has contacted her about any issues in Corporate Services.
"As far as I know, there were no discrepancies while I was there," Noble said, adding that an internal investigation at TCC found no major issues.
Diane Smith, 817-390-7675