L.A. NOW

Southern California -- this just in

« Previous Post | L.A. NOW Home | Next Post »

Auditors: A top L.A. County executive’s efforts to get future son-in-law a job add up to ‘conflict of interest’

Los Angeles County’s second-highest-ranking employee took numerous steps to secure a county job for her future son-in-law that paid nearly $1,000 more a month than the position called for, according to a confidential audit reviewed by The Times.

County auditors said that Sharon Harper, the top deputy to the county’s chief executive, had a “clear conflict of interest” in the hiring of Ed’Ward Rhone and that the chief executive “should consider appropriate disciplinary action.”

The Times had sought the audit for several weeks, submitting public-information requests to supervisors’ offices and the county auditor controller. County lawyers denied the request, saying that releasing the report would be an unwarranted intrusion into Harper’s privacy. After The Times obtained the audit independently, county officials refused to comment on whether Harper had been disciplined.

The audit determined that Harper played an “instrumental” role in getting Rhone, 29, a job with the county’s fire department and did so because she had a personal relationship with him.

At the time of Rhone’s hiring in November of last year, he was engaged to Harper’s daughter. The couple has since married.

“Ms. Harper should be aware that earning and maintaining the public trust is essential to her position as Chief Deputy, CEO,” according to a seven-page report signed by County Auditor Controller Wendy Watanabe and dated Sept. 16. “Because her actions reflect upon the county government as a whole, Ms. Harper should have anticipated how important it is to keep her personal interest separate from her work duties.”

The audit, conducted after an anonymous letter came into the county’s fraud hotline office, details Harper’s direct role in hiring Rhone. The audit says that, among other actions, Harper arranged for Rhone’s transfer from a Department of Health Services position, for which he had reported for just one-half of a day of orientation, to a less demanding fire-department job that should have paid 25% less.

Auditors said Rhone was “overcompensated” for his duties.  

“Mr. Rhone is not ‘technically’ receiving a $1,000 per month bonus; however he does receive a monthly salary that is $955 more than he would have,” according to the audit.

The Times was unable to reach Rhone for comment.

The recommendation that Harper face unspecified discipline was confidentially delivered Sept. 16 to William T Fujioka, the county’s chief executive, and the five county supervisors. Harper since has continued to appear at board meetings.

Reached by phone Friday, Harper said: “I’m not discussing this with you. ... I think this conversation is over.” Fujioka also declined comment.

"If it’s about Sharon, not much I can say," he wrote in an e-mail sent Friday. "I have to respect her rights."

Supervisors Mike Antonovich, Don Knabe, Gloria Molina, Mark Ridley-Thomas and Zev Yaroslavsky also declined comment.

Harper is a longtime county executive. In her current position, she supervises the department heads who oversee some 100,000 employees, the largest workforce of any employer in the region. Her annual salary was $223,500 in 2007, the most recent available publicly.

Auditors wrote that, although relatives are not prohibited from working for the county, "we found evidence that Ms. Harper may have given Mr. Rhone preferential treatment during his hiring process."

Among the findings:

-- After Rhone became engaged to Harper’s daughter, then-Director of Human Resources Mike Henry interviewed him to see if he was eligible for county employment. Henry, who reported to Harper, subsequently phoned a top official in the Fire Department to see if there was a job for Rhone.

-- In late October 2008, Harper ordered another one of her subordinates to create a new position in the Fire Department, including it in a request for new employees submitted to the Board of Supervisors. According to the audit, staffers later said that the request was "somewhat unusual" because it included no supporting documents justifying the position.

-- Rhone was hired into a higher-paying job in the county’s health department and immediately cleared for  "lateral transfer" to what should have been a lower-pay-grade position with the Fire Department. The audit found that, as a "direct result" of Harper’s actions, Rhone "effectively advanced in pay four years faster."

The findings mark the second time in two years that the county’s employment of one of Harper's relatives has drawn scrutiny.

In 2007, The Times reported that Harper’s son, Christopher A. Bunn Jr., was given a new county job after he was twice disciplined for violating Sheriff’s Department policy by associating with suspected criminals. At the time, he was employed as an aide at the Lancaster station.

Harper’s husband, Jerry Harper, now retired, had been the sheriff’s second-highest ranking employee during the 1990s.

The department’s Office of Independent Review, which monitors internal affairs investigations, contended that Bunn should have received more than the three-day suspension for the first violation in 2004, records show. When another violation occurred in 2007, some department officials determined that Bunn should be fired, according to sources familiar with the matter.

Instead, he was transferred to the Department of Public Health, where he made several thousand dollars less a year but retained his pension and benefits. Harper said at the time that she had nothing to do with her son’s transfer.

-- Garrett Therolf

 
Comments () | Archives (74)

FIRE Sharon and all of her family members who illegally got jobs with county... No wonder LA is in such a mess... Fire all Harper famly members!!!

How can the supervisors stay mute or no comment on this subject, when if I apply for a county position, I have no familial ties or connections and have to take my chances as well as the rest of us who are "unconnected".

Also if it has been found that Ms. Harper had misused her position, she should indeed be terminated as well as her son in law be required to accept a lower salary as called for and to reimburse the County for amounts over and above his rightful salary.

But then, I just woke up from a nap and realized that the County won't do squat as usual.

Thank you Times! The rampant corruption in this city serves as a model for third world dictatorships. Hey Steve Lopez, how about giving Ms. Harper a visit?

"she supervises the department heads who oversee some 100,000 employees, the largest workforce of any employer in the region..."

Why on earth does the county need 100,000 employees? That's more troops than we have in Afghanistan! We ought to start workforce reductions by firing her, all her family members she has on the payroll, and the friends and neighbors she has presumably deposited there over the years.

Pity that all the press officers the supervisors have on payroll weren't able to come up with a sufficiently outraged quote about how they'll look into this- they must realize that most of us just don't care.

Way to uncover this LA Times. This is not Chicago, so LA CEO should fire this crook and prosecute if there is a strong case.

Thanks, Garrett great story, keep up the good work.

Lets see if anyone in the district attorneys office has any guts!

What a sleazy family. I bet this is only the tip of the iceberg, relating to this family unit.
Regards,

Doug Wallick

Congrats to the TIMES for another good story.

Seems the 'Public Servants' is this town just don't get it!

How can local government ever foster a respectful & trusting relationship with their constituency if Harper is allowed to keep her job? And great timing. What better time to make the citizens of Los Angeles county feel even more powerless and trivial than when many people find themselves in dire financial circumstances. It only re-enforces the growing public belief that all politicians and elected officials are corrupt and follow their pocket books not the will of the people! Are you listening Arnold & Barack?

Why is a broke city government "creating" more highly paid unecessary jobs? Oh, I forgot. So more nepotistic pigs at the trough of "public service" can gorge themselves on the taxpayers dollar.

Get the Harper clan of parasites off the payroll NOW! Who would notice besides HR who is no doubt kept busy processing more entitlement positions for them.

Fire them both

Keep shining the light on corruption throughout our public agencies. The same shenanigans are occurring in my Northern California town. I can't wait for the players to take the perp walk before the cameras.

Great job.
Keep digging, and digging.
With all the silence and deference, there's more, tons more.

The contact information for the County Supervisors may be found here:
http://ceo.lacounty.gov/forms/Color/01%20BOS%20Main%20Page%20color.pdf

They must all be fired and prosecuted for embezzelment of public funds. I hope the LA Times does not let this one one.

Create a new position within the fire department? Wow, this stuff should be properly punished. I hope we hear more about this in the future. Please, let the city do the right thing on this and nip this in the butt.

Harper is running the county administration like a family business. Go open a brick and mortar and have the payroll overflow with the family name. LA County requires and deserves management with much better judgment and less selfish interests.

This is another example of many on why we need newspapers and reporters...
democracy works when we check and balance those who are in positions of power ...
exposing conflicts of interest...exposing crooked public employees who create job positions for themselves(members)...
and thank you to the whistle-blower who sent in the letter of what was going on with harper...
the district attorney needs to investigate further to bring on charges to harper for creating a self serving selfish job position...
instead of creating jobs for all...harper misused her position for her own interests...
harper needs to be fired immediately...and charges brought on harper.

This is another example of many on why we need newspapers and reporters...
democracy works when we check and balance those who are in positions of power ...
exposing conflicts of interest...exposing crooked public employees who create job positions for themselves(members)...
and thank you to the whistle-blower who sent in the letter of what was going on with harper...
the district attorney needs to investigate further to bring on charges to harper for creating a self serving selfish job position...
instead of creating jobs for all...harper misused her position for her own interests...
harper needs to be fired immediately...and charges brought on harper.

This is another example of many on why we need newspapers and reporters...
democracy works when we check and balance those who are in positions of power ...
exposing conflicts of interest...exposing crooked public employees who create job positions for themselves(members)...
and thank you to the whistle-blower who sent in the letter of what was going on with harper...
the district attorney needs to investigate further to bring on charges to harper for creating a self serving selfish job position...
instead of creating jobs for all...harper misused her position for her own interests...
harper needs to be fired immediately...and charges brought on harper.

It's not what you know it's who you know! This is another example of political nepotism. If the non opinion supervisors would get a backbone they know Harper should be reprimanded and fired. Payback to the county should take place for overpayment.

Nepotism at its best. Terminating these morons will only lead to a slap on the wrist and them retaining their pensions and benefits at the taxpayers expense.

I am a county employee. In the last two weeks all county employees received e-mails warning us that nepotism would not be tolerated. Now I see what was behind all that. Its a well known fact that in the county it's who you know that'll get you a promotion. Mrs. Harper needs to fired, as was told to us was one of the consequences for nepotism.

Rampant nepotism that makes this city look like a third world country, again

Corruption, corruption and more corruption. And nobody does anything about it. The taxpayers get screwed again.

For years, the Los Angeles County Probation Department top administrators have been involved in this type of nepotism, promotions through sex, overtime to their direct/indirect relatives, and special treatment-protection from disipline.
Out of all the County Departments, Probation is the most corrupted-You dont see them in the news. Why?

 
1 2 3 | »

Connect

Recommended on Facebook


Advertisement

In Case You Missed It...

Video

About L.A. Now
L.A. Now is the Los Angeles Times’ breaking news section for Southern California. It is produced by more than 80 reporters and editors in The Times’ Metro section, reporting from the paper’s downtown Los Angeles headquarters as well as bureaus in Costa Mesa, Long Beach, San Diego, San Francisco, Sacramento, Riverside, Ventura and West Los Angeles.
Have a story tip for L.A. Now?
Please send to newstips@latimes.com
Can I call someone with news?
Yes. The city desk number is (213) 237-7847.

Categories




Get Alerts on Your Mobile Phone

Sign me up for the following lists: