A student-operated publication at Santa Rosa Junior College.

The Oak Leaf

A student-operated publication at Santa Rosa Junior College.

The Oak Leaf

A student-operated publication at Santa Rosa Junior College.

The Oak Leaf

Editorial, Issue 5: A pickpot with a pension

Editorial, Issue 5: A pickpot with a pension

It’s been nearly a year and a half since the Oak Leaf’s first coverage of the Holzworth investigation, and the former Santa Rosa Junior College District Police officer remains on our newsroom’s radar. From the first news of Holzworth’s arrest in November 2012 to his pleading guilty this spring, this publication has been dedicated to reporting the story with an objective pen.

But we at the Oak Leaf cannot help but express our concern that Holzworth will be getting off more lightly than he should.

Consider the strategic plea deal. After more than a year since his arrest, Jeffrey Holzworth pleaded guilty to all charges against him:  11 counts of receiving stolen property amounting to grand theft and one count of embezzlement.  In return, his prison term cannot exceed more than four years.

Thankfully for SRJC, fraud insurance covered $286,000 the full amount prosecutors proved he stole.

The defense has pledged to ask the judge for a lesser punishment, reminding us that it is Holzworth’s first offense, that he has taken full responsibility for and upholds him as “a contributing member to society and SRJC for some 28 years, at least until this last unfortunate financial situation.”

We don’t quite follow the defense’s argument here.

When does stealing almost 300 grand from your employer qualify as “contributing”?

Was Holzworth’s first offense when he first began siphoning money in 2005? What of the literally thousands of days of systematic, planned withdrawals until his arrest?

The sheer volume of money stolen, the span of seven years – these things easily outweigh any platitudes about first-time offenses.

But there’s more to it than that.

In 2013, the first full year that Holzworth was not the sole collector of parking funds, the SRJC accounting department has recorded almost a double increase in collected parking revenue, despite a significant decrease in enrollment from the previous year.

Prosecutors have records of Holzworth’s bank statements from as far back as 2005, where the $286,000 number comes from. But police officers familiar with the case told the Oak Leaf in February 2013 they believed the true amount is somewhere north of $1 million.

Another kicker relies on a technicality. On Jan. 1, 2013, the state of California’s Pension and Employee Benefits Code ERISA Regulations went into effect – legislation eliminating the pension of a public employee convicted of a work-related state or federal felony. Holzworth, whether knowingly or coincidentally, officially retired on Dec. 31; one day before it would have applied to him. According to state law, even if he is sentenced to the maximum four years jail time, Holzworth will still collect a pension check.

Notwithstanding these factors, we’ve reached the point where we can bring resolution to the problem.

The district attorney will invite the “victim” – a representative for SRJC – to speak at the sentencing hearing.

The Oak Leaf implores this representative ask for the full weight of justice on Holzworth in light of the gravity of his crime. In addition, we submit that Holzworth be required to pay restitution to SRJC out of his pension in proportion to the amount SRJC paid into it as his employer.

Looking toward the future, we expect to see this incident change policy throughout SRJC infrastructure. Where else might the college be vulnerable to fraud? If the administration doesn’t take action to prevent a similar situation, we will not have learned anything from this sorry episode.

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