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Top L.A. County official removed from job after audit found she improperly hired relative

L.A. County's second-highest-ranking employee has been removed from her position, less than two weeks after The Times reported that county auditors found that she had improperly helped her son-in-law obtain a county job that was "overcompensated" by nearly $1,000 a month.

Sharon Harper, a veteran L.A. County manager, was the top deputy to the county's chief executive.

"She is no longer a member of my office," County Executive William T Fujioka said.

Under the county's civil service rules, Harper will reclaim her former position in the Sheriff's Department where she will be part of the management staff. The demotion carries a significant cut in pay and responsibility, according to a county official familiar with the situation who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The audit by county Auditor-Controller Wendy Watanabe concluded that Harper had a "clear conflict of interest" when she helped to create a position in the Los Angeles County Fire Department for Ed'Ward Rhone without submitting documents to supervisors showing that the job was needed.

The report also found that Harper helped to arrange Rhone's hiring into a more demanding job at the Department of Health Services, where he reported to work for only a few hours before a "lateral transfer" to a Fire Department position that should have paid $995 less every month. The extra pay represented 25% of his paycheck.

The Times reported on the audit Sunday after pursuing the audit for several weeks. County lawyers had denied the requests, saying that the report's disclosure would represent an unwarranted intrusion into Harper's privacy. It was eventually obtained independently.

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.

In the wake of the Watanabe audit, Supervisor Gloria Molina expressed concern about the findings and said "the implications of what [Harper] did are very, very significant to our ability to manage the county." The other four supervisors have declined to comment on the matter.

 Rhone is still employed by the county's Fire Department, although he may be removed if an ongoing investigation finds that he committed wrongdoing during the hiring process, according to the source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation was ongoing.

-- Garrett Therolf
Comments () | Archives (35)

I think the county got things half right. She certainly should lose her job, however, I think jail is a better place for her than her old job with the fire department. A crime is a crime is a crime.

Harper's demotion merely highlights the bloated bureaucracy that exists in LA County. Why has she and her other family members not been terminated? How is it possible that she is just slotted back into her former position and the others just shuffled into the morass that is county jobs? If the Sheriff's Dept. position is a real and necessary job, why wasn't her position filled when she left? Or, is this position just another created position or a soft place to fall for Ms. Harper?

Frankly, I'm sure this case is just the tip of the iceberg. Sickening. No wonder we're millions in debt. Someone needs to get a broom into this mess and start sweeping out the deadwood.

When you are ON THE PUBLIC PAYROLL, the ONLY thing PRIVATE in your job, is what goes on in the rest room, providing its not drugs or Spitzer Girl 'service.' Who in 'ell gave these parasites this OVERWHELMING power???? They should be fired too!

Amazing what this city/county would be getting away with - without the LATimes looking over their shoulder(s).

Hell, what in the world did Harper expect a raise and a promotion. She is lucky that the B.S. civil service system saved her. In the real world she would have been fired.
In talking to friends over the years that are and have been L.A. County supervisors, managers and etc. far too many poor performers are hidden away in the current outdated system (that is one of the reasons King hospital had such poor performance and service to the citizens of L.A. County). Employees should be paid for performance (I realize this not in the Board of Supervisors vocabulary)-a foreign concept for the county system.
Let's up our expectations folks.

What do you need to do to get fired by the county? Apparently stealing, lying and cheating isn't enough. What kind of dirt must Hraper have on the board and fujioka? What a sleazy bunch. Its time for Angelenos to getrid of all of them.

Check the nepotism and favoritism that goes on in the Non-profit Agencies
and in some of our City Departments in Watts.

How can someone who is a liar and cheat be placed in the management of the Sheriff's Department?

So she is still in a management position where she could exercise nepotism?

LA Times: Thank you for exposing unethical and illegal acts by public officials. This type of behavior is outrageous and it is fitting this woman lost her higher-paying job, but too bad she can't be booted out entirely as she deserves. If she were a private sector employee, she'd be out looking for a new job. Too bad we taxpayers have to put up with creeps like this.

Chicago had one alderman who had 22 relatives on the city payroll.
Given the recent indictments of the governor,and possible resignation of the Senator from Illinois,it might be time for all states to do a random check of the nepotism within the state and local governments.
I do not mean to tell the Times how to do their jobs,but there is a directory of city jobs.Look at the directory with your computers and see if you find the same name repeated in different departments.The results would help in the next round of firings since one would think two or three or four members of the same family and their in laws should be able to support even an extended family,If you see several juniors then this might support the notion the workers believe in the old rule:It is not what you know, but who you know.
How serious is this problem? Why not ask the people at the SEC where Madoff's daughter in law worked.

Hang her and her son-in-law!

Shame on those employees who were aware and did nothing to stand up for what is right. Thank you LA Times.

Under the county's civil service rules, Harper will reclaim her former position in the Sheriff's Department? Better check the rules again because she can be fired and prosecuted. Why do the big guys always get the gold mine and the little guys always get the shaft. Why wasn't the choice made to fire her and investigate the rest of her corrupt job stealing entourage in CEO and all over the county? Something smells very very bad, like dead fish. Its time for a full blown corruption investigation of the county starting at the top.

She is clearly corrupt and all she gets is demoted! How about fired and then prosecuted.

How many other Harpers. Rhone's and Bunn's are we paying for? I bet there are boatloads... especially within LA City and County.

And how is it that Harper got away with such a trivial slap on the wrist?

I wouldn't be surprised to learn all this is but the tip of the iceberg.

W Los Angeles

Nothing these corrupt politicians do surprises me anymore

This harper needs to be let go immediately...
harper has compromised the public trust ...
harper has misused her position for personal gain...
failure to fire harper now puts in the mode of operation of bad failed stained public employees being passed around like they accused priests of churches...
taxpayers are now being abused with harper still having a public funded job...
harper needs to fired immediately.

How sad that County employees felt compelled to leak confidential information in order to have this woman's conduct finally addressed. Good for the L.A. Times for reporting this story. Mrs. Harper however should not be making a large salary elsewhere, she should have been fired. Makes you wonder what she might have on other high ranking officials doesn't it?

Only in government would this person not be FIRED on the spot…

Harper's going to the LA County Sheriff???? Don't you need to meet certain background requirements to work there??? Aren't supposed to meet Integrity and Ethical Standards???? I think she would fail a background, not to mention what she did is MISAPPRORIATION OF PUBLIC FUNDS and PUBLIC FRAUD amoung other CRIMINAL VIOLATIONS. Where's the LA County DA in this matter....What about the FBI??? This seems to me as PUBLIC INTEGRITY VIOLATIONS OF MANY CRIMINAL LAWS including CONSPIRACY! Why wasn't she FIRED! Sounds like someone's trying to cover for her and save her somehow. She is no doubt buddies with the higher ups in the County. They had to do something, so they just demoted her. Where's Sheriff Lee Baca on this issue...Does he know that a FRAUDSTER works in his department??? WHAT A JOKE!

Someone please tell me this is a joke. Ms. Harper steals, lies and cheats and we continue to pay her, provide benefits and contribute to her retirement. How can a deceptive person like this be effective in a management position? What a great role model!!

This is a normal occurence at the Los Angeles County. About 6 months ago, a Manager from the Sheriff's Department plead guilty to stealing "seven generators" and got a plea deal to collect his retirement, NO JAIL TIME, pay a fine and get away with such an outrageous act. Not one of his superiors were INVOLVED? This is NOT his first time to get caught. The system is BROKE, it must be fixed

Good job LAT!

As further follow-up to this article, why not bundle these comments and forward to all the LA County Supes and request comment from them on their management practices and report back on their responses or lack thereof.

We need to keep on this, people! Hose down the stalls at City Hall!

It is interesting how there is so much outrage and finger wagging - "if only this happened in the real world" "down with nepotism" please, give me a break. The real world is where things like tax evasion and "the old boy network" reign. My last job was in the "real world"...the owner's mother was on the payroll (never worked for the company, she lived in another state), all college for anyone in the owner's family was paid for by the company, the owners had new cars purchased for themselves and thier children for thier own personal use, housing was paid for by the company for the owners...not to mention the vacations to Europe, Latin America, Asia and the Middle East under the guise of "business meetings" - all paid for with TAX FREE money since they wrote it all off. Plus - here is the real kicker - all this was going on while they were looking to increase thier bottomline - how did they do that? cutting payroll by 20-50% (depending on the position), reducing benefits and laying off staff. How do I know this? I managed accounting and saw all the reciepts (and the pictures that they took while on vacation) and expenditures. When I expressed my concern to the company accountant - his response? everyone that is in business does it - some do it big, some do it small - but they all do it.
So, all this baloney about the public system and nepotism and how it would NEVER happen in the real world...it does happen - only the LA Times can't investigate because they do not have the right to look into it. Corruption in the private sector (aka the real world) abounds and you and I are subsidizing it...
Having said that what Ms. Harper did was unethical and corrective action was required - providing that it was done according to the rules of the County it was appropriate...

what is more interesting to me is who dropped the dime on Ms. Harper and why? Confidential blah-blah-blah...what was that person's motivation in getting her removed and who is going into her spot? Do not look at this situation from a simplistic standpoint that a "do-gooder" in the county saw a rule being broken and "please LA Times, reveal the truth to the people of LA County".
Who ever provided the documentation to LA Times had thier own personal/political reason to get her out..

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