Los Angeles Unified has launched an investigation into allegations of employee intimidation and sexual harassment leveled against school board member Richard Vladovic, the Daily News has learned.
LAUSD's General Counsel's Office has retained an outside law firm to conduct an independent investigation into at least one formal harassment complaint filed against Vladovic, district sources said. Attorneys will also look into allegations of harassment voiced by several district staff members who were interviewed by attorneys as part of a sex-abuse investigation involving an elementary school in Vladovic's South Bay district.
Vladovic, who was elected to the Seventh District seat in 2007, said he would cooperate with the investigation and expects to be quickly exonerated. He also denied any inappropriate conduct involving employees, including a staffer he said recently filed a harassment complaint about a 12-year-old incident.
"I don't lie and I don't cheat and I don't retaliate," said Vladovic, 68.
But an LAUSD employee with direct knowledge of the Vladovic investigation said formal complaints have been filed by two employees -- a male and a female. Several other staff members have related incidents in which they claim they were bullied or intimidated by Vladovic, the employee said.
"People's jobs were threatened. People were harassed. People expressed (incidents) of sexual harassment. People indicated that they were guided, coerced and directed to hire or not fire employees who had otherwise-concerning backgrounds," the employee said.
"There were a number of phrases used, such as Dr. Death -- 'I would lose my job if I did not do what Dr. Death said.'"
The employee spoke on condition of anonymity, citing fear of reprisal.
Vladovic said he learned about the independent investigation on Wednesday after receiving a call from a reporter. But the employee said Vladovic was told about it last week and that he'd lashed out at district officials.
"Vladovic asserted numerous threats to current individuals that they would lose their jobs immediately that they would never work again as a result of this investigation," the employee said. "Those statements are now part of the general complaint."
School board members were alerted to the allegations against Vladovic on June 18, during a closed-door session held prior to their regular meeting, sources said.
Sources said attorneys first briefed the board on the status of the inquiry into the district's handling of sex-abuse complaints against Robert Pimentel, a former teacher now charged with molesting female students at George De La Torre Elementary School in Wilmington. Members then were told that comments staff members made about Vladovic during their Pimentel interviews warranted a "secondary investigation."
Vladovic was not present for the Pimentel briefing or the discussion of the allegations against him. He said he recused himself because of his personal and professional ties to administrators being investigated for their handling of earlier complaints against the fourth-grade teacher.
The Pimentel probe is being conducted by the international law firm of Sedgwick LLC. A different law firm was hired to look into allegations involving Vladovic, sources said.
However, General Counsel David Holmquist refused Wednesday to divulge the name of the other firm or to answer any questions about the inquiry.
School board President Monica Garcia and Superintendent John Deasy also declined to comment.
Vladovic is a native of San Pedro who graduated from Cal State Long Beach and later earned a master's degree from Pepperdine University and a doctorate in education from the University of Southern California.
He started his teaching career as a social studies teacher at White Middle School in Carson, before beginning a decades-long career as an administrator in the South Bay. He retired in 2005 after a two-year stint as chief of neighboring West Covina Unified, then won his school board seat in 2007.
Vladovic generally comes across as a genial curmudgeon in his seat at the end of the board dais, but also shows occasional flashes of anger. Known to colleagues and supporters as "Dr. V," he's considered a strong ally of the teachers union. And he's made no secret of his desire to be elected board president when members meet next Tuesday to organize for the new school year.
Because of his ties to several officials involved in the Pimentel case, Vladovic said he feels as though he's been "under a microscope" since the teacher's arrest in January.
He was local district superintendent over the Carson area when the first allegations against Pimentel surfaced in 2002, and had supervised Pimentel's principal, Irene Hinojosa. As an administrator and, later, a board member, he also worked closely with officials involved in the Pimentel case.
Four other adminstrators were placed on paid leave in April while attorneys for Sedgwick determined whether they were aware of allegations regarding Pimentel and whether they had reported the suspected sex abuse as required by law.
They include David Kooper, Vladovic's former chief of staff who later became principal of Gulf Elementary in Wilmington. He is also a childhood friend of Vladovic's son. Others at the meeting were Linda Del Cueto, now the top instructional administrator in the San Fernando Valley; Michael Romero, the head of the Adult Education Division; and Valerie Moses, principal at Los Angeles Elementary in South L.A.
District officials say they expect the Sedgwick investigation to wrap up soon.
Pimentel was pulled from his classroom in March 2012, when allegations of misconduct surfaced. Deasy suspended Hinojosa a few days later after he determined that she had failed to take action when parents complained about Pimentel in 2002 and 2008. Both Hinojosa and Pimentel retired on the same day in April as Deasy was preparing to fire them.
Pimentel has been ordered to stand trial on charges of molesting nine De La Torre students from 2011-12 and a female relative from 2002-04. He has pleaded not guilty and remains jailed on $14 million bail.
This story has been updated to correct information about the focus of the Sedgwick investigation.
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