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Former Cal State official received more than $150,000 in improper expense payments, state audit finds

December 3, 2009 |  3:44 pm

A former high-ranking California State University official collected more than $150,000 in improper expense reimbursements over three years, including claims for unnecessary trips to locales such as Amsterdam and Shanghai, meals that exceeded allowable amounts and commutes between his Northern California home and Cal State’s Long Beach headquarters, a state audit has found.

The audit, released Wednesday, also scolds the university for a lack of oversight in approving expenses that were “unnecessary and not in the best interest of the university or the state.”

It comes at an especially troublesome time for the system, which recently has taken a series of controversial actions, such as steep student fee hikes, enrollment reductions and drastic cost-cutting measures across the 23-campus system to help close a half-billion-dollar budget gap.

University officials said the subject of the audit is David J. Ernst, the former chief of information technology services. Ernst left Cal State in July 2008 for reasons not related to the audit, officials said, and is now associate vice president for information resources and communications at the University of California. An assistant in Ernst’s office said he was traveling and could not immediately be reached for comment.

Auditors found that the improper reimbursements totaled $152,441 from July 2005 through July 2008, and included $39,135 for travel expenses, $26,455 for business meals that exceeded allowances, $43,288 in prohibited commuting expenses, $24,676 for monthly living allowances that he was not entitled to and $17,053 for personal expenses such as home telephone and Internet services, computer and printer supplies, an annual subscription to a newspaper and annual membership in an airline executive club.

Auditors also found $1,834 in reimbursements to Ernst that resulted from duplicate and overpayments. Cal State officials said they are seeking repayment of just that portion of the questionable expense payments.

But the university officials said that in the wake of the investigation, they have enacted more stringent controls for regulating meal and travel reimbursements.

“It is clear that some of the amounts claimed were excessive and unacceptable, and would not be approved under policies now in place,” said spokeswoman Claudia Keith. “The CSU will continue to maintain tight oversight of its reimbursement process to ensure that appropriate reimbursements are given moving forward.”

—Carla Rivera