POMONA – A former Mt. San Antonio College fire chief accused of stealing nearly $1 million from students and the college pleaded no contest Tuesday to 16 felony charges, Los Angeles County prosecutors said.
Jerry Dewayne Austin, 57, of Norco, was released from custody after pleading no contest to two felony counts of identity theft, two felony counts of forgery and 12 felony counts of grand theft at his jury trial hearing at Pomona Superior Court, Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney James Belna said.
Austin, who was arrested in January, could be sentenced to two to five years in prison with time served, officials said.
“We were basically prepared for trial and we would have gone to trial if we couldn’t settle it. We felt this was the best option under all the circumstances,” Austin’s attorney Early Hawkins said.
“We felt that at the end of the day we’d possibly be in the same place,” Hawkins said. “I don’t think he’s a thief and I will continue to say that, and given everything that’s happened I think we’re satisfied with today and we’ll continue to march on.”
A sentencing hearing and restitution hearing to determine how much money Austin will have to pay back to students and Mt. SAC once he’s released from prison is scheduled for Feb. 24.
“We’re pleased the case is coming to some resolution, but we will await the judge’s final decision regarding the sentencing,” Mt. SAC spokeswoman Jill Dolan said. ‘We remain committed to obtaining restitution to the college and the students.”
Austin, who was the director of Mt. SAC’s Fire Technology Program since 2003, overcharged students for classes and equipment and deposited the money in a fraudulent bank account using the school’s tax identification number.
Austin opened the unauthorized account in October 2005 using the forged signature of a part-time faculty member, according to a felony complaint. After authorizing himself as the administrator of the account, Austin embezzled at least $150,000 from the school.
Austin, who was terminated from Mt. SAC in August, also stole at least $500,000 from 11 victims between August 2008 and August 2010, according to the complaint.
The total amount taken could exceed $800,000, detectives said.
– From Staff Writer Juliette Funes