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July 25, 2014

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Living his primary lesson: Teacher gets second chance after felony conviction

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Christopher DeVargas

Edward Bevilacqua, Director of the Larson Training Center, a community learning facility located downtown, Wednesday July 1, 2014.

Larson Training Center

Local downtown residents works on projects, such as, resume development and job searching, at The Larson Training Center, a community learning facility located downtown, Wednesday July 1, 2014. Launch slideshow »

The greatest lesson Edward Bevilacqua has given his ex-felon students likely came when the instructor nearly lost his teaching job over his own criminal past.

Each day, his pupils — some homeless, most middle-aged and all underemployed — come to downtown’s Larson Education Center, where they seek guidance from Bevilacqua to help steer them toward steady jobs. And like the students he teaches, Bevilacqua has faced his own challenges to rebuild his life since losing his job after a 2005 felony conviction in California.

The culmination of that struggle came earlier this year in the form of a letter from the state’s Commission on Postsecondary Education, the governing agency that regulates private vocational schools. In it, Commission Administrator David Perlman addressed members of the commission and recommended Bevilacqua’s license to teach at Larson not be renewed.

Bevilacqua, Perlman told the commission, had been convicted of felony securities fraud in April 2005 — a premeditated crime in which he stole more than $18 million from investors through a scheme in California.

”I cannot support his employment,” Perlman told the commission. “The subject matter for which he will teach includes numerous business courses and are closely related to the crime for which he was convicted. I cannot recommend him to be in a position that influence students.”

But in a May 14 vote, the commission unanimously disagreed with Perlman’s recommendation, allowing Bevilacqua to teach at the Larson Training Center campus, tucked inside the Downtown Project Learning Village. The California-based school has two other locations, one in Long Beach, Calif., and another in Santa Fe Springs, Calif. Perlman declined to comment about the decision, and commission members could not be reached Thursday.

The lesson for Bevilacqua’s students? Second chances are possible, Bevilacqua said.

”I have been where they are,” Bevilacqua said. “I know what it’s like.”

The school, which opened in November, targets low-risk felons, much like Bevilacqua, who need help picking up skills such as navigating Microsoft Office, basic accounting and even using the Internet. The goal is that the students one day get off the street and in office jobs.

”He’s extremely patient,” said Jamie Beddo, 49, who takes Bevilacqua’s courses at Larson. “I can learn how to do emails and use Google apps — everybody goes from (typing) seven words to 20 words (per minute).”

Bevilacqua’s struggles as a recovering ex-felon, his supporters say, are what make him such a dedicated instructor.

”This is a good guy,” said Max Oliva, a priest who teaches classes at Larson with Bevilacqua. “He paid his dues — this is his way of paying back to society.”

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