By Tom Marshall
The current widespread college admissions scandal has some longtime local residents reminiscing about an education-related scandal 50 years ago in San Clemente. Two local PTA presidents became subjects of news headlines for their arrests in two unrelated criminal cases. By today’s standards, it is unlikely either would have been arrested, let alone prosecuted. As such, we are not going to use the names of those involved to avoid causing further embarrassment to any remaining family members. The information is gleaned from 1969 newspaper accounts in the San Clemente Historical Society’s files.
The first case involved a local elementary school PTA president who was arrested for smuggling $500 worth of marijuana under the back seat of her car as she returned from Tijuana. The woman, who had spent years spearheading numerous campaigns to improve local schools, was accused of hiding the weed under her back seat. She claimed she had no knowledge of the stuff being in her car and that she had only gone to Mexico to buy a small statue.
Further investigation found that she had taken along a 22-year-old tenant of one of her family’s properties. On the return trip, this person had decided to walk across the border instead of riding with her. His fingerprints were found on the marijuana packages and on crushed, empty beer cans in the car. He had prior drug-related charges. She had a clean record. Even so, she and the tenant were both charged in this case. He claimed she agreed to help him smuggle the weed because her family was in dire financial straits. The woman’s husband, a well-known San Clemente city official, denied they had money problems.
The woman was brought to trial twice, anyway. The first trial ended in a hung jury. The second resulted in the judge giving her a five-year sentence in federal prison on Terminal Island. The community was outraged. Committees were formed to raise funds for an appeal.
Just days after the sentence was handed down, a second San Clemente PTA president was arrested while registering voters in the parking lot of the Alpha Beta grocery store. Her crime? Shoplifting $1.75 worth of merchandise: a 65-cent ballpoint pen, an 83-cent package of mascara and a 27-cent package of index cards. This woman had no prior shoplifting or arrest record. She had been busted by store detectives. Even though the store manager stated they didn’t usually press charges against first-time offenders, the woman was prosecuted. Suspiciously, this arrest happened just days after she had been a character witness in the other woman’s marijuana smuggling case. Again, the community was outraged. This second PTA president pleaded not guilty and was released on $315 bail.
Unfortunately, the paper trail goes cold after that. The Big San Clemente Education Scandal now rests in the rubbish heap of “old news.” It is likely the same place the current national education scandal will eventually land.
Tom Marshall is a member of the San Clemente Historical Society and a retired journalist.