Former Beverly Hills Unified School District employee Karen Christiansen was found guilty Monday on four felony counts of conflict of interest related to charges that she secretly negotiated a deal to be an independent BHUSD contractor while performing her duties as the district’s facilities director.
Christiansen faces up to eight years in prison when she is sentenced Jan. 5. She was taken into custody in lieu of $400,000 bail.
“I am very gratified in the verdict today as it will enable us to close a very sad chapter in our district’s past,” Board of Education Vice President Brian Goldberg told Patch. “I am confident moving forward that we have learned a valuable lesson and I am hopeful that future boards will take their responsibilities of oversight, transparency and accountability more seriously so we can ensure this never happens to us again.”
Goldberg has been a vocal proponent of bringing Christiansen to trial. Jury deliberations on four conflict of interest charges began Friday after five days of witness testimony and one day of closing arguments.
Christiansen, now 53, was accused of serving as BHUSD’s project manager for the $334 million Measure E bond while also being paid $5.2 million by the district for consultant services between 2006 and 2009. Deputy District Attorney Max Huntsman, who prosecuted the case, told jurors that at least $2.4 million of these funds are unaccounted for, according to the Nov. 18 Beverly Hills Courier.
The former facilities director was also a paid consultant to Orange County energy firm Johnson Controls Inc. while recommending the BHUSD purchase $7 million worth of goods and services from the company. Former BHUSD Superintendent Kari McVeigh and former Assistant Superintendent of Business Services Cheryl Plotkin testified that had they known about the relationship between Christiansen and Johnson Controls, they would not have recommended that the district hire the company, the Courier reported.
The BHUSD last week settled legal claims against Johnson Controls relating to its dealings with Christiansen, according to the Courier. The district received $5 million in cash and $1.65 million in future equipment purchases, the newspaper reported, noting that it obtained the settlement terms through the California Public Records Act. Board officials declined to comment.
As Patch has reported, BHUSD has spent more than $2 million on legal fees related to the Christiansen case. The criminal case, however, may have helped the district as it pursued its settlement with Johnson Controls.
Now that a jury verdict is reached, related civil cases may proceed. Christiansen filed a $16 million claim against BHUSD in 2009 after it severed its relationship with her company, Strategic Concepts. The BHUSD countersued for $4 million and attorney fees; both suits were stayed (legally put on hold) pending the outcome of the criminal case.
This story was compiled with information from City News Service.