MESA, Ariz. (AP) - Two community college presidents are at the center of a fraud investigation within one of the nation's largest junior college systems, court records show.
Additionally, a handful of former and current employees at the Mesa college and at Scottsdale Community College are under investigation in the Maricopa County Community College District, show court orders released Thursday.
On Wednesday, deputies served search warrants at the three community colleges and at the college district's office in Tempe, seizing college presidents' computers and a horde of internal documents.
Sheriff Joe Arpaio said Wednesday that the warrants were obtained in the wake of widespread allegations involving fraud, theft and the misuse of public money, among other things.
Sheriff's spokesman Lt. Paul Chagolla said investigators continued to remove possible evidence from the colleges Thursday and were likely to continue to do so on Friday.
The other school officials being investigated at Mesa Community College are Pinny Sheoran, director of the Business & Industry Institute, former athletic director Allen Benedict and Elena Manuel, the athletic department's former secretary.
District auditors suspect that Manuel was responsible for the disappearance of thousands of dollars in travel cash in 2003. Benedict was cited for mismanagement and travel improprieties. Benedict retired in December, and Manuel resigned. Neither could be reached for comment.
At Scottsdale Community College, detectives are investigating film professor Chris Jensen and Stephen Green, a music professor fired by the district in July for multiple improprieties.
Jensen nor Green could be reached for comment.
Also under investigation are Steven Meredith, former head of the Maricopa Institute for Art and Entertainment Technology at the Scottsdale college, and his wife, Patricia Bodell, a longtime director of the school's dance department.
A district auditor found that Meredith allegedly used enrollment fraud to keep the performing arts program afloat for several years. Neither Meredith, who now teaches at Snow College in Utah, nor Bodell could be reached for comment.
The potential cases against Christiansen and Lopez appear to stem from recent controversy over the presidents' trips abroad.
Christiansen said in a statement only that the college "has fully cooperated with the investigation and will continue to do so." Lopez declined to comment.
Last year, The Arizona Republic documented that elected officials and district employees - particularly at the Mesa college - spent more than $300,000 on international travel during the past five years.
College officials defend the trips as critical to faculty development and business arrangements that create cash flow for the district.
Linda Rosenthal, president of the district's governing board, said the board is assisting the investigation, but that it is not scheduled to address the issues being investigated.
The Maricopa Community College District is one of the largest in the nation, serving some 270,000 students annually and employing about 12,000 workers.