Belle admits no Bachelor’s degree, agrees to community service, avoids trial, possible fine
Says he believes he had degree at time he wrote his candidate statement in 2014; retired Dean confirms Belle completed all course work for degree.
By Allen Payton
Embattled Contra Costa County Board of Education Trustee Jeff Belle admitted in court on Thursday, December 15, 2016 that he does not have a college degree in political science, as he wrote in his candidate’s statement, when he ran and was elected in 2014. In his declaration, required as part of his agreement and signed under penalty of perjury, Belle wrote, he “believed then that the statement was true.”
“Belle submitted a letter to the court, it was filed with the court and it is an allocution of sorts,” said Deputy District Attorney Steve Moawad who prosecuted the case against Belle. “He admits he did not have a bachelor’s degree. He said he thought he did at the time and it was not his intent to mislead the public.”
Belle was approved for a diversion program in which he agreed to perform 20 hours of community service and to write the declaration saying he does not in fact have a bachelor’s degree and to obey all laws.
Once he submits proof of his community service, the case will possibly be dismissed in either June or December of next year.
“Diversion is normally a year or 18 months or something along those lines. That’s what we envisioned,” Moawad explained. “Belle asked the court for early diversion, which would dismiss the case earlier.”
However, Moawad wouldn’t commit to that.
“The judge asked if Mr. Belle does more than the 20 hours of service, would you consider dismissing in June,” Moawad continued. “I agreed to keep an open mind about that. It would be my expectation that if he wants the case dismissed in June he would do more than 20 hours of community service.”
In Belle’s Declaration, he wrote:
“I, Jeffrey Belle, state that in 2014 I filed my candidate’s statement for the office of Trustee to the Contra Costa County Board of Education. I drafted the statement to be accurate, true, and complete. I stressed my experience as an educator and also mentioned some of my educational achievements. I mentioned, among several other achievements, that I had earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science. I believed then that the statement was true.
When I drafted my statement, I believed that I had earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science at Oklahoma City University (OCU). In my senior year, I was told by the Registrar’s office at OCU that I would be graduating in August of that year, however the OCU’s registrar’s office also advised me that they were waiting for the certified transcript from American University (AU) where I had spent a semester studying. I walked for my graduation at OCU on May 6, 1989. I believed my graduation was effective in August of 1989 as stated in the graduation program and as I had been told by
the registrar’s office at OCU.
However, it has now been clarified that I do not have a Bachelor’s Degree from OCU. It was not my intent to misinform the voters regarding my degree. In the future I will be more careful about my statements to ensure no misinterpretation.
I state and declare under penalty of perjury, under the laws of the State of California in Contra Costa County, that the foregoing is true and correct to the best of my knowledge.
December 15, 2016
He claimed on his ballot statement that he “earned” a “Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science.”
However in an October, 2015 interview for an article with this reporter, Belle said, “I still owe American University for room and board for that semester of almost $3,000. However, in 1989 I walked in the graduation, and they acknowledge it, but they won’t confer the degree, until then.”
Belle referred questions about his letter to his attorneys.
“Talk to Carol or Marsaane about (the) letter,” he said in a message.
By participating in the diversion program, Belle avoids a trial and the maximum penalty of a $1,000 fine. However, the case has cost the taxpayers much more than that.
The DA’s office began the investigation of Belle’s lie in early 2015 and the prosecution began six months later. The case has included multiple court dates, with Belle and his attorneys delaying the process asking for continuances, until Thursday.
The most recent delay in the case included a claim that he’s had cancer has been in the hospital for the past two months getting treatment.
Carol Hehmeyer, one of Belle’s attorneys, said, “He was charged with violating section 18351 of the Elections Code, which is not lying but making a statement that you knowingly know is false when you make it and thought it would have influenced the election.”
That section of the elections code reads as follows:
“Any candidate in an election or incumbent in a recall election who knowingly makes a false statement of a material fact in a candidate’s statement, prepared pursuant to Section 11327 or 13307, with the intent to mislead the voters in connection with his or her campaign for nomination or election to a nonpartisan office is punishable by a fine not to exceed one thousand dollars ($1,000).”
“He did earn it,” she said referring to his degree in political science.” He walked for graduation. His family members were there. They provided declarations under penalty of perjury.”
“We have the declaration from the Dean of the Department of Political Science Larry Eberhart, who retired before this exploded,” Hehmeyer continued.
“Jeff does not need the courses they’re now saying he needs,” she explained. “They’re eliminating some of the credits he did get. They’re not going to recognize the credits that were transferred from another college because the school is no longer in business.”
“The DA’s office spent a year trying to find something wrong about the candidate’s statement,” Hehmeyer added. “The first judge that heard this wanted to get rid of this and wanted diversion.”
Which is what Belle ultimately accepted instead of going to trial.
“We didn’t have the money for a trial,” she said.
The confusion in the case and accusation against Belle stem from the use and definition of the term “earn” versus “confer” when referring to his college the degree. He only used the phrase “have earned…Bachelor’s degree in Political Science,” when Belle wrote and signed his ballot statement in summer, 2014 at the beginning of the campaign.
Belle is currently the Vice President of the county school board. His term ends in 2018.