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Allegations of credit card fraud by county employees referred to prosecutors [Updated]

Seal of the Los Angeles County Probation Department The head of Los Angeles County’s beleaguered Probation Department said late Tuesday that he has referred allegations of credit card fraud by his employees -- who county auditors said made numerous unauthorized purchases with store credit cards issued in the department’s name -- to the district attorney’s office.

[Updated at 8:06 a.m.: An earlier version of this post misidentified County Auditor-Controller Wendy Watanabe as Wendy Greuel.]

Probation Chief Donald H. Blevins said he was notified Monday about the preliminary audit findings, first made public by Times columnist Steve Lopez. Blevins said the audit covered late 2007 to 2009 under the administration of his predecessor, Robert Taylor, who retired earlier this year.

Blevins said he believed the audit findings could amount to “criminal activity” and immediately referred them to the prosecutors.

“Essentially, you’ve got staff that ordered things that disappeared,” he said. “There appears to be very little oversight in this department when it comes to these things and kind of a lackadaisical attitude about, ‘Hey, it’s county money -- we can do with it what we want.’”

The latest news of alleged misspending by probation employees comes as department officials are still struggling to account for $79.5 million in county funding intended to improve juvenile halls, camps and management under a 2004 settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice.

An e-mail summary of the audit, reviewed by The Times, includes numerous findings by Los Angeles County Auditor-Controller Wendy Watanabe's office, including:

* Probation employees obtained store credit cards in the department’s name from Best Buy, Home Depot, Sears and other stores, then used the cards to make non-emergency purchases -- lawn mowers, barbecues, LCD televisions, Sony PlayStations, DVD players and video games. Some of the purchases were not approved by supervisors, could not be located or were never used. Of nine PlayStations, six were missing, as well as 90% of the video games, according to the summary. After auditors notified the county, the cards were canceled.

* Probation staff failed to get required price quotes and approval for purchases, failed to justify sole-source suppliers and split purchases.

* Staff failed to track purchases by matching requisitions, invoices and packing slips before making payments. Out of a sample of invoices, 25% were not paid within a month.

* Staff kept such poor records and inventory control of food at some of the county’s 18 juvenile probation camps, that at one camp monthly food costs reached $210 per youth, more than double the cost at other camps.

Blevins said the final audit will probably be released to the County Board of Supervisors within a few weeks.

He said he asked an internal affairs investigator to look into the allegations and report back in a month. Based on that report, department officials will decide whether to discipline staff, he said.

The auditors' findings came a week after the Office of Independent Review, acting at the behest of county supervisors, issued a scathing report on the failure of probation’s internal investigations.

Blevins said he has assigned a top investigator from his department to spend the next month exclusively looking into the audit findings of financial impropriety.

Already, Blevins said he has centralized procurement and, under the new practice, has one official at headquarters who now approves purchases made only by designated staff at each of the 21 juvenile probation camps and halls.

Blevins said he made those changes, as well as additional inventory controls, “so these things don’t disappear out the back door.”

County Chief Executive William T Fujioka said his staff was reviewing the allegations in the audit. He said, “if necessary” he may bring in investigators from the district attorney’s office or the Sheriff’s Department.

“If it’s true,” Fujioka said of the initial findings, “it’s absolutely unacceptable and we’re going to get to the bottom of it.” 

-- Molly Hennessy-Fiske

Comments () | Archives (40)

Can anyone explain to me why any government would need store credit cards, let alone regular credit cards. And where were those who should have questioned the bills for such purchases! Pathetic!

Probation needs to be taken over by the state of California and removed from the hands of County officials.

Is it any wonder that you have county supervisors that have life long jobs that there is corruption and mismanagement. They are to busy handing out awards to be bothered with day to day stuff. Zev, Gloria, Mike How long do you guys want to keep your egos going. Get the hell out and let someone who has the energy and desire to be a real public servant and not some egotistical GOD.

It's time to prosecute those hotshot probation officers in jail that stole tax paying money. I am greatful to Blevins and Fujioka. What a screw up probation department.

So... the people in charge of overseeing the probation of criminals are in fact criminals themselves! Hmmmm.

Another example of criminals with badges. These people will probably only get a slap on the wrists because... "department officials will decide whether to discipline staff".

Aren't cops supposed to be role models? What happened to the days when kids looked up to cops?

Anything short of prosecuting each individual who are involved with the acts in question with a felony, would be corruption covering up crime and corruption.

They need a general credit card to make purchases for the facilities whether it be a juvenile hall that needs a TV or a probation department break room that needs a new microwave; however store cards with excessive interest rates is a dumb idea and it seems like they were making purchases for their homes and not just the facilities. Track the purchases to what employee had that card on that day.

in my company, I can't order a pencil without my boss' signed approval and going through a procurement process.

Why are government agencies so slow to implement common-sense policies? Oh, that's right: it's all free taxpayer money anyway.

So while the County Board of Supervisor is busy criticizing the policies and laws of sovereign states like AZ, the County's Probation Dept is missing up to ten percent of its budget thru theft.

Nice. Molina and Yaroslavsky should resign.

The poor Probation Dept.

Clearly, if we allowed them to take more tax money from us, this would not have happened. They are merely underfunded !!!

I have complained about this and the kickbacks the buyers and department heads take for decades.
Its costing the public a fortune and drives the price of everything way up.

To lower rates of recidivism amongst the recently paroled, they would be best served to encounter as probabtion officers individuals with high moral standards to point them to an honest, productive livestyle. It truly is devastating to learn (but somehow not surprising) that in LA County, criminals oversee criminals. Under guidance provided by these probabtion officers, the recently paroled may well soon graduate to bilking social services and other government programs, given the expert advice they will receive. What will be the outcome of the probe? Lots of press releases. Once the first case goes before the inevitable mediation hearing, the union will protect the officers job and he/she will be best positioned to come up with the next scam. That's how County government works...

No trouble for the Probation crooks, the cops are going to be chasing around cannabis for the next 10 years before losing the battle.

I know how to fix this, lets boycott Az. because we don't like the way they do things...if we clean house in Az. no one will look at our house...

Dept. of Public Works is doing some big spending for video equipment. Look into it Steve


It is very frustrating to read about this theft of taxpayer's money.

This article did not mention the "statue of limitations" in these people's contract that the Lopez article did. Most of this can't be prosecuted because our Supervisors signed a contract that limits punishing criminal acts not prosecuted within 2 years. Oh yeah it takes on average more than that to discover and document such acts.

Let me guess. Supervisors and Probation Department leaders will express outrage and promise swift decisive actions once "all the facts are known".

A year or so later we'll get the "new procedures to prevent this from happening again" will be in place.

One or two people may get demoted the rest will get maybe a note in their permanent file. No names will be release, nobody will be prosecuted.

Perhaps 10¢ on the dollar from 10% of the questionable items will get repaid.

Things will go on as they have been because the people will have forgotten and elected the same do-nothings to the Board of Supervisors. I know Ms. Molina was unopposed on the last ballot.

Are we surprised by yet another case of bureaucratic defalcation? This anemic economy isn't all bad. It exposes those whose hands were on the cookie jar.

Probation institutions are not jails. A lot of these purchases sound like things historically purchased for use within detention facilities. Most camps/halls have BBQs, televisions and a few other things staff can use to reward minors that are making an effort to get their lives together. With the level of use some of those gizmos get, especially if an inferior product was purchased because it was the cheapest, they wear out and are replaced. Probation "Officers" do not handle the ordering of supplies. That is done by a unit of civilian employees. Between some of the idiots still at the very top and these people, the rest of us are getting real tired of looking bad. Orders are reviewed closely. If people have stolen for personal gain they need to be fired and prosecuted!

Very good start, city wise.... this should not happen any longer. After they finish with this audit and get to the bottom of it, they can do an audit on those politicians in Sacramento

The county employees who not only wasted our money but stole it will doubtless be placed on PAID leave, "pending investigation." If fired, we will later discover that the guidelines weren't "clear enough" to fire them for stealing. They will be reinstated with a "warning."

Mr. Taylor, the administrator of this theft-prone department has "retired," doubtless on a pension. The pension cannot be taken from him, any more than from the "retired" SEC administrator under Bush who ignored numerous requests to investigate Bernie Madoff. Like all the nurses and others at MLK Hospital that were so incompetent it had to be closed.

Meanwhile, the DWP workers who went to strip clubs have been...what? Placed on paid leave? Let me guess..DWP is still "investigating"? The county administrators using money for slush funds are..still doing it? The city's incompetent mayor who spends more time at games, in Copenhagen or in D.C. meeting the mayor of Mexico is still...in office setting a fine example of work ethic?

There was a time when a public office was a public trust. In the distant past obviously.

The employees will promise not to do it again, the taxpayers will pay and the most egregious offenders will be offered full benefit retirement with lifetime medical.

Wonder how much of the missing stuff can be found in probation staffers homes?
Just what in the world is going on here?

Wow! 79 million un-accounted for. Terminate all of them. After that, bring em all up on criminal charges. Attorney general?

"He said he asked an internal affairs investigator to look into the allegations and report back in a month. Based on that report, department officials will decide whether to discipline staff, he said."

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