Merced College employee investigated on suspicion of fraud, embezzlement

Merced College officials have put an employee on paid administrative leave while looking into whether funds were misappropriated from the school’s purchasing department, President Ron Taylor confirmed Thursday.

Joseph Bisinger, 47, of Atwater has been on paid administrative leave since April 1. He is Merced College’s lead purchasing buyer, which means he is in charge of dealing with vendors and making purchases for supplies throughout the campus, according to the college.

The Merced County Sheriff’s Department confirmed that Bisinger was being investigated for fraud and embezzlement. The Sheriff’s Department turned over the the findings from its investigation to the Merced County District Attorney’s Office, said Deputy Delray Shelton, a sheriff’s spokesman.

The District Attorney’s Office confirmed it has received the report from the Sheriff’s Department but has not finished reviewing it or filed charges.

Bisinger was not available for comment.

Taylor said Merced College’s administration is in the process of reviewing the conditions of Bisinger’s employment based on his contract and indicated that process is continuing.

Taylor declined to give an amount the college may have lost because the internal investigation is continuing, but he described the amount as “significant.”

An outside auditor was brought in to go over its books, Taylor said, to try to determine how much money is missing. He stressed that the college’s own audit process alerted officials to the problem.

Taylor said school staff identified a “leak” in the school’s fiscal process shortly before April 1, and waited until it was “prudent” to put Bisinger on leave. He said it was normal procedure to wait before putting someone on administrative leave in such cases until enough information is gathered to justify such action.

He said a routine review uncovered accounting irregularities, and he’s confident in the school’s safeguards. “There’s always room in a large institution for a determined employee to abuse their position, especially when they’re in a position of trust,” Taylor said.

The college will make an effort to recover any money that was taken, he said.

Officials would not say how long Bisinger has worked for Merced College. As a lead buyer, he makes $48,300 annually.

A regular yearly audit conducted last year did not catch any misconduct in the college’s Purchasing Department. The findings of that audit were presented to the board at the Jan. 7 meeting.

Wayne Hicks, trustee for Area 3, said he was surprised to hear of the suspected misconduct.

He said he believes the college’s safeguards work, and he commended college staff for being aware and “diligent” when the books looked out of the ordinary. “Had the safeguards not been in place, they wouldn’t have caught it,” he said.

If the president decides to recommend termination of Bisinger’s contract, the board of trustees would need to call a public meeting and take a vote.