Elusive Professor Sells Condo Before State Can Seize It For Ethics Fine
The job of recovering the largest ethics fine in Washington state history just got tougher. State officials have been unable to locate a former Evergreen State College professor who skipped out on his six-figure fine. Even though Jorge Gilbert's whereabouts are unknown, he managed to sell off his condominium in Olympia last week before the state could seize it.
Jorge Gilbert funneled student fees to his relatives in Chile for more than a decade before Evergreen State College stopped him. The state's Executive Ethics Board hit Gilbert with a fine of $120,000 in May. The fine came two years after college and state auditors found that Gilbert had repeatedly misused state funds. The auditors said Gilbert overcharged students and steered their fees to his family members on the annual study-abroad trips he led to his native Chile.
Standifer: "The Ethics Board gave him until November 29, 2011, to pay that fine." Assistant attorney general Chad Standifer represents the Ethics Board. "He has to date not paid it."
On Thursday, four months after the payment deadline, and one day after Gilbert sold his condo for $130,000, the state took the first step toward forcing Gilbert to pay up. The attorney general's office got a judge to schedule a hearing on Gilbert's unpaid fine this July.
State officials say they're doing everything they can to collect the fine. But the wheels of government may turn too slowly to get results.
Obtaining a court order for debt collection is a time-consuming process. On top of that, the state has had difficulties in serving notice on Gilbert.
Standifer: "Well, we certainly have tried. First of all, we have sent him correspondence to all the known addresses that the ethics board had on file for him. So far, we have not gotten any response. He's not contacted us at all."
KUOW was also unable to reach Gilbert by phone, mail, email or in person. In his last communication with state officials, Gilbert said he could not attend his ethics board hearing because he was being treated for a heart condition in Chile. When the ethics board notified Gilbert of his record-breaking fine, it got a certified-mail receipt back from Gilbert's rented mailbox near Olympia. Months later, the board realized an employee of the mailbox center had signed that receipt, not Gilbert. So the board had to go back to square one and serve Gilbert a second time.
Melanie de Leon is director of the Washington Executive Ethics Board.
de Leon : "We've tried to serve him. It didn't work. We served him a second time--no response. Now you kick into we have to get a judgment, which means we have to serve him notice of the court action. I mean, you can't take action on somebody who doesn't know that the action is occurring."
De Leon says collecting a debt is difficult when you don’t know where a person lives. Or where he keeps his money.
de Leon : "We have a very small staff. It's going to be difficult to collect the fine, but we're making our diligent effort to do it. That's all I think that we can do."
Budget cuts eliminated one of of the ethics board's two investigator positions in 2010. They now have a staff of three.
Last week's sale of Gilbert's condo puts a valuable asset out of the state's reach.
The condo had been on the market for nearly two years. Real estate broker Tiffany Wallace with Van Dorm Realty handled the sale. But she says she's never met Gilbert. Their communication was all by e-mail. She expected a friend of Gilbert's to drop off the keys to the condo to complete the sale.
Copyright 2012 KUOW