A 35-year-old Orange County college administrator who systematically stole $89,000 in federal grants intended for extremely poor students hoped this morning for just one day of punishment in custody.
After her May 2012 arrest, Anna Catalan eventually admitted that from 2008 to 2011 she used her position as Director of Special Programs inside the Rancho Santiago Community College District to steal federal funds aimed to improve school opportunities for poverty-striken, migrant farm workers and their children.
According to U.S. Department of Justice records, Catalan–who managed the district's $425,000 annual program–doctored records, including forging students' signatures on checks that she converted to personal use.
To support her request for leniency in punishment, Catalan submitted numerous letters from former students, who portrayed her as an honest, selfless angel and her criminal defense lawyer noted that until this incident her record had been clean.
In contrast, Juan Vazquez, president of Santiago Canyon College, where Catalan was based, wrote a statement for prosecutors that rejected the notion the thievery was a victimless crime.
“We're still contending with the fall-out of her actions,” wrote Vazquez.
Dr. Loretta Jordan, Santiago Canyon College's Associate Dean of Student Development and Catalan's boss, told U.S. District Court Judge James V. Selna about the damage.
“Our students were victimized by the person in whom they trusted the most,” wrote Jordan. “She manipulated and took advantage of them through her knowledge of their cultural beliefs and core values, which are, in part, defined as valuing and respecting authority . . . With that understanding, she was able to steal their money, their hopes and opportunity for a college education . . . She only cared about getting as much as she could for herself with no concern about the damage she was doing to others.”
Despite the defendant's request for leniency, Assistant United States Attorney Brett A. Sagel argued that Catalan deserves 27 months in prison, supervised probation for two years upon her release and court-ordered restitution of $89,000.
At a hearing inside Orange County's Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse this morning, Selna agreed that Sagel's recommendations were reasonable and just.
Catalan must surrender her freedom to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons by noon on February 14, 2014.