Several weeks after overseeing a surfing event on a state beach last spring, a parks and recreation officer received a gift in the mail: Two dozen designer sunglasses from the sponsor.
State policy bans accepting the gift, but he took the glasses anyway. He sold the sunglasses, with a retail value of $200 a pair, from his office for $20 each. His boss found out and didn’t stop him. Instead, the supervisor bought a pair for a family member.
The violation is one of seven California Auditor Elaine Howle details in a new report on whistleblower complaints. Howle routinely investigates claims, or asks other agencies to look into accusations, and drafts one to two reports a year.
The latest report, which excludes names or identifying information of employees, found that the cases collectively cost the state nearly $400,000 in squandered funds.
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In the case of the sunglasses, Howle’s office directed Department of Parks and Recreation staff to investigate. The employee told the agency that he accepted the sunglasses for a local nonprofit lifeguard association. He gave the proceeds of the sale and the remaining unsold sunglasses to the nonprofit with the blessing of his supervisor, he said.
Investigators learned that the employee wasn’t an active member of the association. The agency found evidence that he gave it $220 cash, the expected proceeds from the sale of 11 pairs of sunglasses. But they couldn’t find the remaining 13 pairs.
As a remedy, parks and recreation said it intends to discipline the officer and “serve the supervisor with a documented corrective counseling memo” for not following the policy and incorrectly advising his subordinate. Both will be required to take ethics training.
“By accepting the sunglasses, the officer violated both state law and State Parks policy, and by donating the proceeds from the sale, he compounded the problem,” the audit said.
Other investigations found:
▪ Caltrans failed to collect $315,000 in rent, late fees and utility payments from residents of a mobile home park the agency owns in District 10, which includes eight Northern California counties. Most of the money owed was from utility charges that were never billed because Caltrans didn’t go out and read individual meters.
▪ A district engineer for the state water board violated conflict of interest laws. The worker encouraged the state drinking water program to fund projects that benefited the engineering firm of the employee’s spouse. The employee signed off on payment claims that gave the firm $3.9 million.
▪ A former section chief at the Department of Health Care Services violated the Political Reform Act by frequently lobbying the agency to influence decisions on behalf of his clients less than a year after leaving his post.
▪ The California Department of Public Health incorrectly reimbursed an official $74,000 for commuting expenses from a home in Sonoma County to an office in Sacramento between June 2012 and March 2016.
▪ Napa State Hospital wasted $3,000 paying an employee overtime wages for duties associated with a lower-paying job classification.
▪ A state parks supervisor used her work cellphone to promote and sell beauty products and call out-of-state relatives.