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County workers paid for mileage on days off, study finds

April 19, 2012 |  9:04 am

Auditor-Controller Wendy Watanabe

Numerous employees at L.A. County's troubled child welfare agency were fired or suspended after an audit found that 40% of surveyed workers received mileage reimbursements on days they did not work.

Child welfare agency mileage audit Allegations against three staffers — including one woman suspected of forging her boss' signature on a falsified mileage claim — were referred to the Los Angeles County district attorney's office for possible criminal prosecution.

The findings were based on a detailed review of records of 20 employees with high mileage claims examined by the county auditor-controller and mark the latest in a series of management breakdowns at the Department of Children and Family Services, which oversees care of tens of thousands of abused or neglected minors.

DOCUMENT: Child welfare agency mileage audit

Decisions to remove children or reunite them with their families rely heavily on reports by the department's social workers, but the quality of the department's workforce has been repeatedly cited as a concern.

Thirteen supervisors responsible for signing off on the reports of the 20 employees acknowledged they routinely did not review them first, the study found.

The majority of reviewed reports vastly overstated the distance between travel points, and nearly half the reviewed reimbursement requests lacked basic information.

The department has 3,000 employees who use their personal vehicles for county business, and taxpayers reimbursed them $7.7 million during the last fiscal year alone.

Auditor-Controller Wendy Watanabe said "significant weaknesses" in reimbursement procedures had fostered fraud and "may have been prevented with proper management oversight."

After the report was issued online, however, she cautioned that her audit was based on a "nonscientific sample" and said that the 20 reviewed employees had been selected because they had "historically higher than average amounts of mileage reimbursement requests."

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-- Garrett Therolf

Photo: Auditor-Controller Wendy Watanabe said weaknesses in reimbursement procedures had fostered fraud. Credit: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times

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