The next Parks dept. cover up

by CalWatchdog Staff | January 25, 2013 8:21 am

Jan. 25, 2013

By Katy Grimes

Cagle cartoon state parks scandal, Aug. 1, 2012[1]

The crime is one thing — the cover up makes it worse. But in the case of the state Parks and Recreation agency[2], 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 [3]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[4]. “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[5].

“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[6]: “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.

I wrote[7] about the illegal vacation buyout scandal in the State Parks and Recreation agency in “Scandalous state parks department needs privatization[8].” 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[9]. “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?,”[10] 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[11]


  1. [Image]:
  2. state Parks and Recreation agency:
  3. Sacramento County District Attorney Jan Scully :
  4. in a letter to Deputy Attorney General, Michael Farrell:
  5. Scully said:
  6. Scully continued:
  7. wrote:
  8. Scandalous state parks department needs privatization:
  9. a recent report about the ongoing special funds issue:
  10. State Parks Director: Negligent or Incompetent?,”:
  11. read Scully’s letter here:

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