A former dean at East Los Angeles College in Monterey Park pleaded no contest in a criminal case in which he was charged with overbilling the school by more than $1,500 for trips he took.

Paul De La Cerda, 47, was sentenced to two years probation and ordered to pay $1,580 in restitution as a result of his plea on Friday to a felony count of grand theft by an employee, attorneys said.

De La Cerda’s attorney, David Diamond, said the defense will ask that the charge be reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor and expunged in two years.

“Mr. Paul De La Cerda’s goal was to avoid jail time and have the case dismissed. While it may take longer than he had hoped (two years of probation), both those things will take place,” Diamond said in a statement. “It could have taken us the same two years to get to trial and as such, this avoids the costly burden of a trial and stress on his family with the same result.”

The defense lawyer said his client’s job was “to promote education in this state, which he has done with excellence,” and said he had submitted receipts for reimbursement — “sometimes underreporting his out-of-pocket expenses.” He added that Paul “did the best he could.”

Diamond said “any inadvertent overpayment for reimbursement will be returned to East L.A. College.”

Deputy District Attorney Casey Higgins said De La Cerda bore sole responsibility for the overbilling. Higgins dismissed any insinuation that anyone else on the college staff was responsible for the overpayments to De La Cerda.

“A full investigation revealed that not to be the case,” Higgins told City News Service.

De La Cerda was initially charged last December with one felony count each of misappropriation of government funds and embezzlement of government funds involving several hotel stays between 2017 and 2019, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.

De La Cerda’s LinkedIn page says he was the dean of instruction, student advancement, workforce & innovation/DEI Programs at East Los Angeles College from 2013 to June 2021.

Kristin Anhala, executive assistant to the president of East L.A. College, confirmed to City News Service that De La Cerda left the school in June 2021.

De La Cerda subsequently worked as the assistant superintendent/vice president of instruction at Cabrillo College, in Aptos, an unincorporated town in Santa Cruz County.

He was initially placed on administrative leave, with that college’s board of trustees subsequently voting in favor of “non-reemployment” for De La Cerda, who will be paid through June 30, the website Lookout Santa Cruz reported.

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