The State Worker

Former tribal lobbyist named as new California Lottery director amid investigations

Gov. Gavin Newsom appointed Alva Vernon Johnson to take over the California State Lottery Monday, after former director Hugo Lopez stepped down Friday amid investigations.

Johnson, a former tribal lobbyist, takes over a department that has been been under scrutiny from the Department of Justice and the State Controller’s Office since August, when anonymous employees sent a letter to former Gov. Jerry Brown alleging misconduct among senior executives at sales conferences.

Johnson lobbied for the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians from 2016 to 2018, and for the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians from 2005 to 2015, according to a Governor’s Office news release. He was a legislative liaison to the Lottery in 2001, according to the release.

He has a master’s degree in public policy from UC Berkeley. The position requires Senate confirmation and comes with a $180,000 salary, according to the release.

Lopez, who held the job starting in 2015, oversaw a period of growth at the Lottery, with annual revenues topping $7 billion, he noted in a resignation letter.

Last summer’s anonymous letter focused on senior lottery staff misbehaving at a Southern California piano bar after a sales conference in 2016. The letter included photographs that had been posted online of managers carousing at the bar.

A State Controller’s Office audit later determined department officials inappropriately spent about $300,000 over four years on travel, food and accommodations for sales conferences.