A Metabolife founder, Michael Ellis, was among the people invited to meetings. Ellis has a history with Brand and his program Compact for Success, which guarantees high-achieving Sweetwater students admission to SDSU. In 2000, Ellis gave Compact for Success $500,000.
Ellis also has an interesting history of his own. In l988, he and a friend were arrested for conspiring to make methamphetamine; the friend went to prison, and Ellis got probation. In the early ’90s, he founded Metabolife, a company that made diet pills whose key ingredient was an amphetamine-like stimulant called ephedra. In 2008, Ellis was sentenced to six months in prison and fined $20,000 for lying to the FDA about customer reports of serious illnesses suffered after taking the diet pills. One hundred fifty-five deaths were associated with ephedra. In addition, Metabolife pled guilty to several counts of tax fraud.
Ellis came to the Funds for Education meeting to suggest a new plan to help Compact for Success. He said he wanted to place “cups,” featuring the district logo, throughout the community to collect donations for schools. Perno’s notes indicate that Ellis was willing to pay for the cups and put seed money into them so they wouldn’t appear empty.
Why did Brand appoint two parents known to be sticklers about ethics to the Funds for Education Committee?
The answer may be found on Brand’s wish list for how to spend the money the committee generated. Two carrots dangle for Payne and Perno: $100,000 for “New [California Interscholastic Federation] Section” and $10,000 for “Anti-Drug Program.”
Although Payne has opposed California Interscholastic Federation leadership in the past, he has been keenly interested in seeing a new section come to the district. Perno has worked tirelessly to bring awareness to the community and to legislators about the dangers of the synthetic drugs known as “bath salts” and “spice.” When asked if the $10,000 in unassigned antidrug money had tempted him to be more compliant with the committee, Perno replied, “I can’t be bought.”
Last week, following the district attorney’s indictment of five people connected to the school district, Brand waved the white flag — temporarily. In addition to Funds for Education, he suspended the Sweetwater University project and contracts with GCR, which had served as district counsel until recently, and Seville Group Inc., the company that has been managing construction funded by Proposition O.