The next Parks dept. cover up

Jan. 25, 2013

By Katy Grimes

Cagle cartoon state parks scandal, Aug. 1, 2012

The crime is one thing — the cover up makes it worse. But in the case of the state Parks and Recreation agency, it could be that the lack of prosecution of the crime is the real crime.

Late in the day on Thursday, the Sacramento County District Attorney Jan Scully announced she would not pursue criminal charges against California state parks officials “because of a ‘failure to identify any crime’ by the state attorney general.”

“At the outset, we note that both the reason and the basis for referral to our office is unclear,” Scully said in a letter to Deputy Attorney General, Michael Farrell. “There is no indication who your office considers to be suspects, and if so, what crime they may have committed.”

If the DA can’t identify who committed the acts of fraud and covered up the millions, did the Attorney General’s office even do their job?

Attorney General does incomplete investigation

“The Attorney General’s Office in this instance clearly asserted that authority when it assigned a deputy attorney general to question individuals regarding the unreported funds.  It is thus unclear why the matter has been referred to our office at all, and whether your office intends to retain its historic authority in the prosecution (if that be warranted here) of such cases,” Scully said.

“The referral to us contains only transcripts of some of the witness interviews; not the final report (apparently for reasons discussed below), and no supporting or related documentation.”

Scully continued: “Second, the investigation was not conducted in a manner consistent with or conducive to its use for criminal evaluation purposes.  Specifically, the investigation consisted of the interview of 40 current or former state employees.1

“Thus, your referral package to us does not include the compelled statements.  Still, it does not appear that any effort was made in this process to identify and differentiate potential targets or defendants from mere witnesses, nor to assure that statements taken from targets did not serve as the basis for developing further information as the investigation progressed, nor to meaningfully segregate out any such ‘product’ information.”

The Attorney General’s office handed the DA an incomplete file, and never bothered to identify who the perpetrators were.

Ironic crime

While the State Parks and Recreation department, under agency Director Ruth Coleman’s leadership, had been soliciting private donations to keep state parks open, top agency employees were bilking the state for vacation pay buyouts, and covering up a stash of cash totaling more than $54 million.

wrote about the illegal vacation buyout scandal in the State Parks and Recreation agency in “Scandalous state parks department needs privatization.” I questioned who it was that authorized the checks that were paid to the parks employees, and said that everyone involved should be brought up on charges.

It doesn’t take an Attorney General to peel back the layers of this onion. So was this negligence or another deliberate cover up by the AG?

The scam(s)

The scam goes like this: In the past, state employees have been allowed to sell unused vacation time back to the state for cash payouts. But these employees hadn’t received the proper authority to do this from the California Department of Human Resources.

They did it anyway, and someone at the state approved the checks cashing out the vacation time.

The allegations of stashed $54 million have greatly upset the many groups that worked tirelessly with state and local officials to try and save these parks. The discovery that the budget situation wasn’t as they were told merely added insult to injury. A quarter-cent sales tax measure in Sonoma County was even recently shelved in light of the secret special fund discovery.

“The alleged multiyear misreporting by DPR officials of tens of millions of dollars of fund balances in Governor’s Budget documents is unacceptable,” the Legislative Analyst Office stated in a recent report about the ongoing special funds issue. “The Legislature must be able to rely on the accuracy of such budget documents, which are an important part of the annual decision making process.”

Statewide, park volunteers, donors and non-profit organizations entered into public-private partnerships to save the parks.  They raised funds, donated their time, and performed maintenance on state parks.

During this time of crisis, the Parks Department Director Ruth Coleman testified to the Legislature about the need to close the 70 parks and lay off agency staff. She has since resigned, and placed the blame on senior administrative employees, while insisting that she did not know about the secret special funds accounts or the vacation buyout scandal.

But as I wrote in “State Parks Director: Negligent or Incompetent?,” there are numerous current and former Parks Department employees who claim that Coleman knew about the special fund accounts, and knew about the vacation buyout scheme. The Parks and Recreation Department scandals were common knowledge in some state government circles.

 ‘Special funds’

The state has more than 500 “special” funds, which are funded through fees that we all pay for services, schools, environmental issues, on products, in our utility bills, and at the checkout counter at many stores.

These special funds were ostensibly created to help pay for specific programs. However, with the spotlight on the Department of Parks and Recreation’s two secret special fund accounts, which the Department of Finance and State Controller insisted they had no idea existed, it is clear that investigations and audits into these funds are desperately needed, as well as the other 570 special funds.

DA tosses case back to Attorney General

After the AG punted the incomplete case to the Sacramento DA, with little or no information, , the DA obviously had no choice other than to toss the case right back.

“If your office conducts a criminal investigation and then determines that it appears a crime has been committed, that a specific suspect or suspects are identified as having committed the crime, and that the case can be proved without Lybarger information (or its product) from the target suspect(s), our office will then consider whether it is proper to file the charges and issue the warrants that you request,” the DA said.

Case closed on one of the biggest scams in California state government?

read Scully’s letter here



Write a comment
  1. Donkey
    Donkey 25 January, 2013, 08:55

    Katy, I Love your journalisim skills and guts.

    If this was a private sector citizen the prosecutors of any ilk would be falling all over each other to put someone in prison.

    This is how the game is played nowadays. If you are a product of the political class or a member of the RAGWUS you get special priviliges if you break the law. Look at Mike Corona in the OC, T-RACK didn’t want to touch his buddy with a ten foot pole, but he had no problem prosecuting innocent citizens on a whim. 🙂

    Reply this comment
  2. CalWatchdog
    CalWatchdog Author 25 January, 2013, 09:24

    WHat happened in this agency is a crime. You are right Donkey – in the private sector, heads would roll, and people would serve time.

    But in the highest levels of government, scandal and crime goes unpunished – Benghazi cover up… I don’t know what we do about this. Where is the outrage?


    Reply this comment
  3. us citizen
    us citizen 25 January, 2013, 13:28

    Im outragged!!! Everyday this gets worse and worse. By 11am my head hurts from lies and deceit. And yet the idiots keep voting these people back into office. Im really thinking there should be an IQ test to vote and a 10 page written commentary on why you think that person should win. And if your commentary sucks you get kicked out of the voting booth.

    And for those working for the govt…….its time they go by the same rules as a non-govt job. You screw up, you get fired. This has just got to stop. I fear that things are going to get sooooo bad, that I dont know what will stop it anymore, but something has to.

    Reply this comment
  4. Donkey
    Donkey 25 January, 2013, 15:06

    Katy, Carl Sagan had some words for our frustrations,”But in the highest levels of government, scandal and crime goes unpunished – Benghazi cover up… I don’t know what we do about this. Where is the outrage?”

    “Power provides the ability to choose… but has a proclivity for corruption”

    “One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.”
    ― Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark

    Many just don’t care about truth or freedom anymore. They seem to enjoy being enslaved by those in power. As always history is repeating itself. 🙂

    Reply this comment
  5. Ftheunions
    Ftheunions 29 January, 2013, 21:57

    The double-talk and hogwash that comes out of these people’s mouths is embarrassing. There’s just so much nonsense in government. More special funds and commissions and czars and councils and special districts! It’s unbelievable what government has become–and who we have allowed to take reign. A bunch of public entrepreneurs!

    Reply this comment

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