The massive hidden surplus of cash uncovered in 2012 at the California Department of Parks and Recreation apparently began with unintended budget errors, and not intentional misconduct, according to a long-awaited investigation by the state attorney general released today.
However, investigators determined there was a "conscious and deliberate" effort not to report the surplus to the Department of Finance, as required by state budget rules. This occurred, the investigation found, over many years and as high up in the organization as chief deputy director Michael Harris, the No. 2 in command. Harris was fired in July when the surplus came to light.
The report was ordered by the state Natural Resources Agency after officials determined that managers at state parks headquarters in Sacramento had secretly hidden $54 million in two special funds for more than 12 years. The revelation, along with an earlier scandal involving an unauthorized vacation buyout program at parks headquarters, was first reported by The Sacramento Bee in July.
The attorney general interviewed 40 people at the department. Notably absent is Ruth Coleman, the former state parks director who resigned in July. She refused to be interviewed on the advice of her attorney.
Documents released Friday include the 140-page investigation and more than 2,000 pages of interview transcripts. The investigation finds that the surplus money "apparently began and grew as a result of unintended errors" and not as a result of "intentional conduct." Investigators also found no evidence that any of the money was used for any "surreptitious expenditure."
Officials at the Natural Resources Agency, which oversees state parks, are still reviewing the voluminous report, said spokesman Richard Stapler. Among other things, they are looking to see if any criminal acts occurred. If so, further action would be referred to a local law enforcement agency, Stapler said.
"We need to carefully review it and make a determination if we need to refer anything to local law enforcement," Stapler said. "We haven't made any determination yet."