SAN DIEGO - Former Poway Unified School District Superintendent John Collins pleaded not guilty Thursday to charges he misappropriated more than $345,000 in public funds, including putting in for vacation time already used and using a district credit card for personal expenses.
Collins, 63, faces seven years in local prison if convicted of four felony counts, said Deputy District Attorney Leon Schorr.
"He got paid out for vacation he already used," the prosecutor said, outlining one of the allegations against Collins.
Schorr said his office started an investigation after getting complaints about Collins from community members.
Two of those community members, Kim and Chris Garnier, led a Facebook and online campaign to have Collins removed from his post. Both attended Rancho Bernardo High School, which is in the Poway Unified School District.
Chris Garnier called Collins a "wolf in sheep's clothing."
Garnier said he at one time had a good relationship with Collins -- when Collins was the principal at Rancho Bernardo High -- but things turned sour when Garnier started to allege injustices against blacks and Latinos in the school district.
Victor Pippins, an attorney for Collins, expressed disappointment that the case has resulted in criminal charges.
Pippins said Collins stands resolute in proclaiming his innocence.
"Our position is that Mr. Collins always used the district funds appropriately, that his vacation time was managed appropriately," Pippins said. "It's unfortunate that this dispute has resulted in serious felony charges, but we absolutely deny the charges. Again, it's very unfortunate that what can be seen as a contract dispute or a misunderstanding about terms has come here, where Mr. Collins is forced to defend himself in criminal court."
Collins was fired in July 2016 after an audit found the alleged misappropriations.
At the time he was let go, Collins was the highest paid superintendent in San Diego County, with an annual salary of $308,900 and a total compensation package of more than $457,000.
Collins had financial problems, though, according to texts and documents.
The Poway Unified School District filed a civil lawsuit last year to recover lost money. That case is still pending.
Collins -- who remains free on his own recognizance -- will be back in court Sept. 29 for a readiness conference.
A preliminary hearing -- expected to last a week -- is scheduled for Oct. 17.