Report I2004-1 Summary - March 2004

Investigations of Improper Activities by State Employees:

July 2003 Through December 2003

HIGHLIGHTS

State employees engaged in improper activities, including the following:

  • Misappropriated money the California State Prison-Los Angeles County received from production companies that filmed at the prison.
  • Directed employees to perform tasks related to his outside employment on state time.
  • Used state resources to operate a private business.
  • Failed to deposit recycling money received for materials state employees collected from highways into a state bank account.
  • Participated in the formation of a contract with a company employing her spouse.
  • Misrepresented professional qualifications to meet the minimum requirements of a state position.
  • Used a state-owned computer to visit 3,000 adult-oriented Web sites.

State departments engaged in the following improper activities:

  • Contracted with one of its employees and paid her $13,579 for interpreting and translating services.
  • Hired an employee who did not meet the minimum qualifications for the position.

RESULTS IN BRIEF

The Bureau of State Audits (bureau), in accordance with the California Whistleblower Protection Act (Whistleblower Act) contained in the California Government Code, beginning with Section 8547, receives and investigates complaints of improper governmental activities. The Whistleblower Act defines an "improper governmental activity" as any action by a state agency or employee during the performance of official duties that violates any state or federal law or regulation; that is economically wasteful; or that involves gross misconduct, incompetence, or inefficiency. The Whistleblower Act authorizes the state auditor to investigate allegations of improper governmental activities and to publicly report on substantiated allegations. To enable state employees and the public to report these activities, the bureau maintains the toll-free Whistleblower Hotline (hotline): (800) 952-5665 or (866) 293-8729 (TTY).

If the bureau finds reasonable evidence of improper governmental activity, it confidentially reports the details to the head of the employing agency or to the appropriate appointing authority. The Whistleblower Act requires the employer or appointing authority to notify the bureau of any corrective action taken, including disciplinary action, no later than 30 days after transmittal of the confidential investigative report and monthly thereafter until the corrective action concludes.

This report details the results of the 13 investigations completed by the bureau or by other state agencies on our behalf between July 1, 2003, and December 31, 2003, that substantiated complaints. This report also summarizes actions that state entities took as a result of investigations presented here or reported previously by the bureau. Following are examples of the substantiated improper activities and actions the agencies have taken to date.

DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, CALIFORNIA STATE PRISON-LOS ANGELES COUNTY

The California State Prison-Los Angeles County (Los Angeles County Prison) of the Department of Corrections (Corrections) mismanaged $3,300 it collected from television and motion picture production companies that filmed at the prison for costs prison staff incurred when providing security for film production activities. An employee responsible for coordinating with production companies misappropriated $1,500 that the Los Angeles County Prison received from a television show for filming at the prison by directing money that should have been deposited into the department's general operating fund into the prison's employee association, an association used to support activities boosting employee morale. Additionally, Los Angeles County Prison could not demonstrate that it was reimbursed the $1,800 in costs it incurred to accommodate filming parts of two movies at the prison.

Los Angeles County Prison also participated in an improper plan to route $4,150 in donations it received from production companies through an inmate religious account before subsequently transferring the money into the employee association so that donors could claim their donation as a tax-deductible contribution.

CALIFORNIA YOUTH AUTHORITY

A manager with the California Youth Authority (Youth Authority) violated state law by engaging in incompatible activities and wasting state resources when he directed two of his employees to perform work related to his outside employment during their state work time.

DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL SERVICES

A Department of Social Services (Social Services) employee used state equipment and personnel to conduct his personal business. The employee excessively used state resources including fax, Internet, e-mail, telephone, printer, and computer to run his personal business and to conduct other personal matters. In addition, the employee directed another employee to complete faxes relating to his personal matters and his personal business on state time.

Social Services also obtained evidence that led them to question whether the employee ever obtained a college diploma, a requirement for appointment to his position. Social Services asked the employee for proof of college completion, but he resigned in June 2003 instead. Social Services later confirmed that the employee had not received a college diploma.

CALIFORNIA UNEMPLOYMENT INSURANCE APPEALS BOARD

The Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board (Appeals Board) paid one of its employees $13,579 for interpreting and translating services she provided between September 2002 and July 2003. State law prohibits a state employee from contracting on his or her own behalf with any state agency to provide services or goods. An Appeals Board official, Official A, sent an e-mail notification in 1998 to other Appeals Board officials, notifying them that state employees were not allowed to enter into such contracts. Regardless, the employee told us that she checked with both the official in charge of her office, Official B, and her supervisor before she began to work as a contractor and that these officials gave her permission to do so. According to Official B, other employees had contracted with the Appeals Board in the past, and both the employee and Official B said they were unaware of the prohibition.

DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION

Supervisors from two different Department of Transportation (Caltrans) districts improperly spent money their employees had received for recycling materials collected from highways. A maintenance supervisor from one district (Supervisor A) received $865.80 for material that his employees collected from highways. Supervisor A directed an employee to take the materials to a recycling company that paid the employee in cash, and the employee gave the money to Supervisor A. Supervisor A stated he spent the money on building crew morale and did not personally benefit in any manner.

A supervisor from another district (Supervisor B) also received money his employees collected from recycling materials. Supervisor B instructed his employees to collect checks payable to him from recycling companies, which Caltrans reported he probably deposited in his personal bank account. District management did not determine or inquire about how much money Supervisor B received from recycling, or when he started this practice, because he discontinued it in July 2002, a year before district management completed its investigation. Caltrans determined that Supervisor B spent the money he received on a barbecue for his employees.

Caltrans intends to ask for reimbursement for the $865.80 that Supervisor A received but does not intend to ask for reimbursement from Supervisor B because he discontinued the practice before Caltrans completed its investigation. Caltrans instructed Supervisor B's staff to have the recycling company make the checks out to Caltrans in the future and send them directly to its accounting division for deposit. It also plans to provide training to Supervisor A's staff to ensure proper handling of money received from recycling. Caltrans also plans to place a letter of warning in Supervisor A's personnel file.

OFFICE OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE PLANNING

A manager in the Office of Criminal Justice Planning (OCJP) violated state law that prohibits a public officer from being financially interested in a contract made in his or her official capacity. The manager was directly involved in the formation of a $641 contract between the OCJP and an office supply retailer that employs the manager's spouse.

DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, PLEASANT VALLEY STATE PRISON

In April 1997 Pleasant Valley State Prison (Pleasant Valley Prison), part of the Department of Corrections (Corrections), hired an employee who did not possess the minimum requirements for the position. The job specifications for the employee's position require the equivalent to graduation from college and completion of one additional year, or 24 semester units, of graduate study in an accredited school. The employee possessed a college degree but completed only 12 semester units of graduate study related to her discipline. As a result of this improper appointment, the State paid the employee $86,000 more than she was entitled to receive based on her qualifications.

DEPARTMENT OF FORESTRY AND FIRE PROTECTION

An employee of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CDF) used his state computer to visit 3,000 adult-oriented Web sites between September 2002 and December 2002. As discipline for these infractions, CDF reported that it reduced the employee's pay by five percent for four months.

DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION

A Department of Transportation (Caltrans) employee misrepresented his educational qualifications to meet the minimum requirements when he applied for a position with Caltrans. As discipline for these infractions, Caltrans reported that it reduced the employee's salary by 5 percent for three months. It also reported that it will require all future employee candidates with nonaccredited degrees to present evaluations from a specific credential-evaluation organization, verifying that they have the appropriate educational qualifications.


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