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'Gold Card Desk' dismissed some L.A. parking tickets without justification, audit finds

City Controller Wendy Greuel, center, with staff member Marisol Espinoza, right, speaks to members of the media outside City Hall on Thursday.

A “Gold Card Desk” that allows the mayor, Los Angeles City Council members and other elected officials to expedite constituent appeals of parking citations -- and possibly have fines reduced or eliminated –- has been uncovered by city auditors, suggesting that some people may have received special treatment in the handling of contested tickets.

Click to read the auditThe special desk has been responsible for dismissing approximately 1,000 tickets in a two-year period alone, said City Controller Wendy Greuel, who learned of the program during a review of the L.A. Department of Transportation.

“You should not need political pull to expedite an investigation,” Greuel said during a news conference Thursday morning at City Hall.

Document: Read the audit

Auditors found no consistent criteria for handling tickets referred to the Gold Card Desk, a resource that appears virtually unknown to most ticket recipients.

Some of tickets receiving expedited reviews were tossed out solely based on the violator’s self-proclaimed inability to pay –- a complaint Greuel’s audit portrayed as an invalid reason for dismissal. Other tickets were eliminated without the required paperwork and many requests for cancellation did not include any reason at all, according to the audit.

"It's unclear to us exactly what percentage were done for reasons they could justify ... there really weren't clear policies," said Greuel, a possible mayoral candidate.

Officials with the transportation department said Thursday that the Gold Card Desk is about 20 years old –- it has operated on and off -- and is a way for traffic citation complaints that are received by council offices to be handled.

There are currently two employees in charge of the Gold Card Desk, said LADOT senior official Robert Andalon. Those employees were hired by the department’s contractor Affiliated Computer Services, State and Local Solutions, and there is not a centralized desk or bureau for those requests. The department said in a statement that all contested citations are reviewed using the same criteria, including those handled by the Gold Card Desk.

Who used the service and the exact purpose of the program remains a puzzle even to auditors. Several council members said they had heard of the service but never used it. Other council offices did not immediately return requests for comments.

Councilwoman Jan Perry said that several years ago her staff was briefed about the program, but that she believed neither she nor her staff had ever used it. 

Councilman Dennis Zine said he had also heard of the service but never used it. “If we can establish or reduce fines, that’s news to me,” Zine said, adding that “I don’t know how appropriate that would be.”

The new audit is the second in a series of three focusing on the city Transportation Department. The first audit, released in April, found that the department had missed out on up to $15 million in revenue because it had gone easy on chronic scofflaws who rack up multiple unpaid parking tickets. 

Greuel's report released Thursday also argued that lax oversight and poor policies "led to tremendous missed revenue opportunities."

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-- Ari Bloomekatz at City Hall

Photo: City Controller Wendy Greuel, center, with staff member Marisol Espinoza, right, speaks to members of the media outside City Hall on Thursday. Credit: Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times

 
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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.
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