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Ex-California official defends socializing with celebs on public dime

August 25, 2011 | 12:39 pm

An appointee of former Gov. Pete Wilson wasted $51,000 hobnobbing with celebrities, attending the Golden Globe Awards, World Magic Awards, a Julio Iglesias concert and other events while claiming he was recruiting for an "anti-stigma" program at the Department of Mental Health, a state audit said Thursday.

Arthur Kassel, a Beverly Hills resident who recently retired from the state, denied his time was wasted, even though none of the celebrities he talked to ever did a public event or radio ad shedding light on the unfair stigma suffered by the mentally ill.

He said money was never budgeted to allow the anti-stigma program to move forward.

"People who have mental illnesses have no voice," Kassel said. "We were hoping if the buidget ever got fixed in California that we would be able to do a star-studded show to tell people what the problems are."

Kassel, who also described himself as a special advisor to Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, was not identified by name in the audit, which refers to him only as a "senior official." But Kassel confirmed he was interviewed by auditor-investigators about his work attending celebrity events for the "anti-stigma" program.

State auditor Elaine Howle disagreed that the money was well-spent, noting neither Kassel nor his supervisor "could identify any measurable benefit that the state garnered as a result of the senior official’s interaction with celebrities at social and entertainment events in the name of Mental Health’s anti-stigma program."

Instead, Howle wrote to Gov. Jerry Brown that the department "wasted at least $51,244 in state funds in 2009 — the one-year period that we examined — by employing a longtime senior official to perform activities that either were undertaken on behalf of a nonstate organization or did not serve a state purpose."

-- Patrick McGreevy in Sacramento