Saturday, January 14, 2006

With Friends Like These, Who Needs Enemies?

In three previous articles, we've discussed Studio Animatics' role in the Title VI-A federal grant given to Santa Monica College (SMC) by the U.S. Department of Education. In our first article, entitled "Piercing Jim Keeshen's Various Corporate Veils," we revealed that Academy of Entertainment and Technology (AET) Professor Jim Keeshen was operating under several assumed corporate veils. Two such companies, Animatics and Studio Animatics, received funding totaling $50,000 in the year 2000. $40,000 of this funding is known to be related to animated language modules he was to allegedly create for SMC's proposed International Institute of Trade (I2). SMC has continued to withhold any and all public records pertaining to these contracts including the actual contracts, proposals, invoices, bills, receipts, etc.

SMC I2 Animated Language Modules Title Screenshot

In our second article entitled "
Jim Keeshen's Studio Animatics SMC Contracts Exposed," we went deeper into Keeshen's presentation to Rice University regarding the animated language modules he was to allegedly create using Title VI-A funding. We discussed the fact that he obtained another federal grant in 2001 using the Animatics company for $33,000 and that this contract was amended a few months later, this time under the name Studio Animatics. We have shown that AET Dean Katharine Muller authorized payments to Jim Keeshen's two fictitious companies in the total amount of $73,000. We assume she authorized the original $10,000 payment to Animatics as well. The Studio Animatics invoices totaling $33,000 can be viewed HERE.

In our third article entitled "
Santa Monica College's Failed Forgery Attempt," we reveal the fact that the July 2001 consultant contract signed by Jim Keeshen on behalf of Animatics was forged. We compare this contract with the amended one from September 2001. Finally, we question why Dean Muller authorized all these payments to Jim Keeshen as an outside consultant when he was an employee of the District. According to the contracts he alleged signed, he agreed that he was "not" an employee of the District. He also used AET professor Jerry Hamby as the interactive producer and programmer for the project.

Now, let's go a bit deeper into this story and see what else SMC truly knew and how its administrators acted on this knowledge. Was the original contract with Animatics, approved by the SMC Board of Trustees on or about April 3, 2000 related to Keeshen and this Title VI-A federal grant project? Well, here's a very revealing document provided by SMC entitled
U.S. Department of Education Grant Performance Report. The recipient of the grant was Santa Monica College. The project title is listed as "Undergraduate International Studies and Foreign Language." This title places this government grant under Title VI-A.

The project director is
Randall Lawson. At the time of the grant, Lawson was Vice-President of Academic Affairs at Santa Monica College. According to SMC's Administrative webpage, "As the college's chief instructional officer, he led in the development of the curriculum for the successful Academy of Entertainment & Technology, in the creation of the High School Dual Enrollment Program, and in facilitating significant growth in the college's general instructional program." As is evident from this quote, Lawson was very deeply involved in the Academy where Keeshen taught, Muller reigned, and Joan Abrahamson served on many levels. It is interesting that SMC chooses to refer to AET as "successful" given the fact that many of its occupational certificates vanished and many of its courses in its curriculum fell to the wayside. See our previous blog articles entitled "AET's Questionable Vocational Career Certificates," "Jim Keeshen's Great Big Show," and "AET's Degrees of Deception."

Lawson was appointed Executive Vice President on Jan. 1, 2005, around the time that former President Piedad Robertson resigned from SMC after receiving a vote of no-confidence. Robertson is also listed in the credits of the animated module CD-ROM made by Jim Keeshen as shown in this screenshot below:

SMC I2 Piedad Robertson credits

Pursuant to the USDE Grant Performance Report, the performance period was between September 1, 1999 and March 12, 2000. The current budget period was between July 1, 1999 and June 30, 2000. The report is signed by Randall Lawson and dated April 12, 2000. According to page 8 of the report, Lawson received an additional five percent of his $114,113 annual salary as Project Director. So, if Lawson gets additional money for this Title VI-A project, one questions what exactly SMC administrators such as him do to earn their salary?

Remember Animatics contract dated April 3, 2000? Well, let's look at a screenshot I made of
page 4 of the Grant Performance Report:

Jim Keeshen's role in the SMC U.S. Dept. of Ed. Title VI-A grant

Here it is in black-and-white, signed by Randall Lawson: "Animation-related components of the project will be supervised by AET Professor of Animation Jim Keeshan." Jim's last name should have been spelled "Keeshen," but we know it's the same Jim Keeshen. Now remember that SMC can't find the original Master Services and License Agreement that Lawson was in charge of. Also, remember that SMC is withholding from us the April 3, 2000 contract with Animatics.

Clearly, Lawson knew that Jim Keeshen was involved in the animated language modules under the Title VI-A grant. If we look at page 4 of the performance report, Lawson states the following:

Although the current campus environment has been complicated by protracted labor negotiations, many faculty members from the college's academic-oriented and pre-professional departments have supported and participated GMSC development efforts during Year One of the project. As an agreement with the faculty was reached on April 3, 2000, greater involvement among the general faculty is anticipated.

Who "complicated" these "protracted labor negotiations"? Why of course, District Negotiator Robert Sammis and Piedad Robertson, both who sit on the Santa Monica College Foundation's President Circle with Randall Lawson, Joan Abrahamson, as well as Katharine and David Muller. According to the February 9-15, 2000 article by the Santa Monica Mirror entitled "SMC Faculty Protests 10% Salary Hike", the SMC faculty was fighting over the injustice of the mere 10 percent raise authorized by the SMC Board of Trustees. According to Faculty Association Vice President Lantz Simpson, “[District Negotiator Robert] Sammis came in said that we had to accept their last, best, and final, and when we said no, they just got up and walked out.”

Additionally, the Faculty Association feared retaliation by President Robertson. According to the article, "On January 14, the State of California’s Public Employees Relations Board (PERB) had found the college guilty of bargaining in bad faith, failure to provide information and threats of retaliation from President Piedad F. Robertson." Sammis of course denies these allegations.

Sammis is also the point person in charge of providing District records to us under the California Public Records Act. Sammis is the one withholding numerous vital records from the public. He is also the person who claims that Jim Keeshen never filed his mandated sabbatical report and doesn't really seem concerned about this fact. As I stated in my December 21, 2005 email to Sammis:

From these events and communications between us, it is blatantly obvious that the District is withholding vital information in violation of the Public Records Act.

Again, I asked if you had the Animatics contract by and between Jim Keeshen and the District and you stated that you did not have it. I asked you if I could inspect the file and you refused. I inquired if you asked Mr. Keeshen if he had a copy to provide us under the CPRA and you stated that you would not tell me if you had asked him or not. Given the fact that you have provided me two contracts (one of which was an amended contact) with Mr. Keeshen doing business as the fictitious company Studio Animatics / Animatics for 2001, in which a questionable tax identification number was provided, I question why this earlier contract is being withheld.

Is it the policy of the District to merely hand out public funds without any accountability whatsoever? Since Mr. Keeshen received $10,000 from the District under very vague circumstances, there should be a file open to inspection and these documents should be produced. Furthermore, since Dean Katharine Muller authorized payment to him as an outside consultant when he was in fact an employee of the District, and she knew this information despite the fact that he signed contracts totaling at least $43,000 stating that he was NOT an employee of the District, I question the legitimacy of these financial transactions with the District and Dean Muller's involvement in such. I further question your reluctance to provide this information.

I then asked you pointedly if you were going to produce Mr. Keeshen's sabbatical application, report, and supporting documents, all of which we requested in writing. Again, you are alleging that the applications are confidential and I am denying this contention once again due to the fact that the sabbatical application requires the applicant to state how his sabbatical supports the goals and mission of Santa Monica College. Furthermore, as I have indicated in writing repeatedly, other professors' applications were disclosed to the public online on SMC's website.

As to Mr. Keeshen's sabbatical report, I again pointed out to you that this report was mandatory and that 3 to 4 copies were to be placed permanently on record with the District. It has been almost two years since Mr. Keeshen completed his alleged sabbatical. As the summary of his sabbatical indicated, it was to be undertaken to help AET students in seeking employment. Since I am a student at AET, I have a right to know if there was any benefit derived to us at AET.

As I previously indicated in writing, Mr. Keeshen stated to me that he did in fact file this report as mandated. I asked you if this was true or, alternatively, if the District removed this report on purpose or otherwise replaced it. You became upset with me, stating that I was "misbehaving" for asking such legitimate questions, removed the files that I was supposed to inspect from the conference table, and promptly ended our short meeting.

I guess Sammis thought that the SMC Faculty Association was "misbehaving" for asking for a long-overdue salary increase. Again, I ask if there is any sort of financial accountability at SMC? Do the faculty and students even matter to the college's administration? When will the administration cease and desist their retaliation against us for standing up for our rights? How many unnecessary lawsuits will it take before someone at SMC comes to his or her senses?

It is interesting that the agreement with the SMC faculty was reached on April 3, 2000, the same exact date that the SMC Board of Trustees, with Margaret Quinones at the helm, awards the mysterious Animatics contract for $10,000. And who sat during this period on the Santa Monica College Faculty Association Representative Assembly? Why of course, AET Professor Jim Keeshen on behalf of Design Technology. Keeshen's two-year term was to expire Fall 2001, right when he wraps up his last Animatics contract and submits his final Studio Animatics invoices.

Now, Keeshen is obviously a member of the SMC Faculty Association. In fact, he was a representative. Did he receive a ten percent increase in his SMC salary. Let's examine Jim Keeshen's salary records provided by SMC. In Fall 1999, Keeshen received an annual salary of $66,110. The next semester, in Spring 2000, when the SMC faculty were legitimately upset over the 10 percent increase proposed by the Board, Keeshen's salary went up to $72,721. This is exactly ten percent. Why should he unhappy with this increase when he allegedly received another $50,000 in secret outside consultant contracts that year? That would place Keeshen's total obtained from SMC in 2000 as $122,721. In Fall 2001, he received another $33,000 from his Studio Animatics contract. His salary was now $76,481. In total, in 2001, Keeshen received from SMC $109,481. In two years, Keeshen allegedly walked off with $232,202 of district, state and federal funds.

And what did Keeshen do with all these ill-gotten gains thanks to his secretive Animatics contracts paid through AET Dean Katharine Muller's authorization? Why, he placed a nice down payment on a condominium on or about July 25, 2001. You can view the Title Deed HERE. The 11033 Massachusetts Avenue address where the condominium was located was the one he also used on his California driver's license. However, he continued to reside at his apartment located at 1516 Colby Avenue. Keeshen has resided at the Colby Avenue address for approximately two decades. Then what's the purpose of changing his driver's license to the new address if he was to sell the condominium three years later on or about March 22, 2004? Was it a mere real estate investment or was it to conceal his true address, the address he used for his fictitious Animatics and Studio Animatics contracts and invoices? Perhaps a bit of both.

Going back to Randall Lawson's admissions regarding Keeshen's involvement in the Title VI-A project, it is obvious that Keeshen's role was to be as a faculty member of the Academy of Entertainment and Technology and not as an outside consultant. In any event, if his intentions were sincere in this federally funded project, then why not use his Jim Keeshen Productions? Simply put, he was clearly identified under that company as it appears as a "friend" of AET on their expensive silver donor plaque on the first floor of the Academy. SMC Administrators, Katharine Muller and David Muller, are also our AET donor "friends."

With friends like these, who needs enemies?

-- Des Manttari,
Phoenix Genesis

(c) 2006: Phoenix Genesis/MBS LP

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