Thursday, August 14, 2014

Merced College embezzlement suspect pleads not guilty in South Carolina

A former Merced College employee accused of stealing $363,000 from the school entered a plea of not guilty during his arraignment Monday.

Joseph Bisinger, 48, faces felony charges in Merced Superior Court for four counts of theft by false pretenses. Each count carries an enhancement because of the amount of money in question.

He was arrested last week and held at John Latoracca Correctional Facility in lieu of $100,000 bail. Bisinger was released Monday on his own recognizance after a recommendation from the Merced County Probation Department.

He faces a maximum of six years in a state prison.

Judge Mark V. Bacciarini presided over the hearing and set Bisinger’s next court appearance for 8:30 a.m. Sept. 8.

Jeffrey Tenenbaum, Bisinger’s attorney, told the judge his client was not a flight risk. Bisinger has been a resident in the county for a decade, Tenenbaum said, and his children live in the area.

Bisinger was placed on administrative leave in April while being investigated by Merced College and fired from the school in May. As Merced College’s lead purchasing agent, he was in charge of dealing with vendors and purchasing supplies for the campus, according to the college.

Prosecutors say Bisinger used a fake janitorial company to charge Merced College for services that never took place over a seven-year period. The charges went back to November 2007 and continued through February.

Merced County Deputy District Attorney Walter Wall said all victims are treated equally by his office, whether a single person or the taxpayers of Merced County.

Wall said some members of the community may see a crime against a public institution as particularly heinous. “The fact that the victim is a local community college serving multiple members of our youthful population – that’s a factor we seriously consider,” he said.

The discrepancy in Merced College’s records came to light, prosecutors said, when an employee noticed that the janitorial services were being charged to the old address of Merced College’s Los Banos campus. The campus on the west side of Merced County moved into its new location in September 2007.

The charges apparently went unnoticed by the annual audits conducted by an outside organization, hired each year by Merced College to go through the school’s books.

Bisinger started working for the college in March 2006 as a receiving clerk. He became the lead buyer in June 2010. As lead purchasing buyer, he made $48,300 per year.

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