Pasadena struck with Bell-like scandal

Pasadena struck with Bell-like scandal


Rose Parade 2010, wikimediaPasadena has a reputation of being run by good-government liberals. But now it’s immersed in a scandal that could rival that of Bell and its infamous former administrator, Robert Rizzo.

The Pasadena Star News reported, “Los Angeles County District Attorney’s investigators Tuesday arrested a former Pasadena city employee and two other people suspected of using a City Hall slush fund to embezzle more than $6 million in taxpayer dollars over a decade.”

In a separate article, Pasadena Star News editor Frank Girardot, a former crime reporter, pointed out Pasadena used the same accounting firm that missed the financial misappropriation of funds in Bell. According to a separate story, that firm was Mayer Hoffman McCann.

Referring to the Rose Parade, Girardot wrote, “No one would describe the smell emanating from City Hall this New Year’s morning as the sweet fragrance of roses.

“Nope. That’s the smell of rot. It’s the stench of filth and corruption.”

Arrested were:

  • Danny Ray Wooten, 51, a former management analyst in the city’s Department of Public Works. He had an annual salary of $131,000 per year, according to He was the project manager for “undergrounding” electric utilities in Pasadena;
  • Melody Jenkins, 46, formerly Wooten’s assistant;
  • Tyrone Collins, 55, owner of Collins Electric in Altadena, who allegedly received $3.5 million of the stolen money.

Collins allegedly ran his company out of his home. Wooten and Collins allegedly attended the same church.

Collins Electric reports Collins Electric has annual revenues of $500,000 to $1 million and employs a staff of one to four. The website shows the projects for which building permits were applied for contractors in California.  From 2007 to 2012, Collins Electric showed 29 permits for undergrounding electrical work and no other permits.

Wooten, Collins and Jenkins are all being held in county jail with bail set at $1.75 million, $900,000 and $50,000, respectively.

Where did the money go?  An audit conducted by an outside accounting firm for Pasadena reported the $3.5 million given to Collins for the “undergrounding” allegedly instead went to the New Covenant Christian Fellowship Church in Pomona.

Collins allegedly kicked back some of the monies to Wooten.  In turn, Wooten allegedly also diverted $2.8 million to the Southern California Evangelist Jurisdiction Center in Pasadena.

And $40,000 allegedly was given by Wooten to his assistant, Jenkins, for temporary services in 2008 unrelated to the undergrounding utility project.

pasadena‘Undergrounding’ project                          

The ongoing $50 million project for “undergrounding” overhead electric utility lines in Pasadena is independent of the city’s general fund.  A $5 million per year surcharge on electric bills funds it. Revenues are collected by the Pasadena Department of Water and Power. The project is implemented by the Public Works Department.

Since there were no financial controls over the program, Wooten allegedly had unchecked power to authorize checks for work never completed by Collins.  Moreover, Wooten allegedly wrote in larger amounts on the checks he was authorized to write.

The Public Works director countersigned the checks, thus a whole chain of departments and employees was involved in issuing the checks.

Another irregularity is that city building inspectors apparently never checked whether the undergrounding projects met any engineering specifications or codes either.  If they had, they would have caught on that no work had been completed.

Additionally, Wooten would have had to file annually with the City Attorney’s Office a Statement of Economic Interests (California Form 700), required by the California Political Reform Act. What Wooten reported on his annual disclosure form was not reported by the city.

Pasadena has a Fraud Hotline to detect fraud, waste and abuse. It was not used by any employee during the decade-long occurrence of this alleged embezzlement.

Pasadena Mayor Bill Bogaard went so far as to call the undergrounding utility fund a “City Hall slush fund.”

Democratic scandals

From 2010, the Democratic Party in California has been plagued by corruption scandals in the state Senate and at the municipal level, most notably in Bell.

The Senate scandals cost the Democratic Party its two-thirds supermajority in 2014. Sen. Roderick Wright, D-Los Angeles, resigned after being convicted of perjury. Indicted in separate incidents were Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, and Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello.

In Pasadena, Democrats comprise six out of seven City Council members, plus the directly-elected mayor. Pasadena is ranked as one of the most liberal cities in the United States by the Bay Area Center for Voting Research, with 69.9 percent of voters considered “liberal.”

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