Monday, October 2, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

California audit uncovers nearly $280,000 in misspent funds

One state employee was allowed "administrative time off" for 20 months. Another missed 600 hours of work over the course of two years.

(CN) — An annual report by the California State Auditor found nearly $280,000 in "inappropriate expenditures" by state agencies.

Much of the misspent money came from unreported employee absences and inappropriate time off. For example, a registered nurse working for California Correctional Health Care Services, which provides health care to prisons, was absent from work for 600 hours between October 2019 and November 2021, amounting to an overpayment of more than $38,000.

An analyst at an unnamed agency was placed on "administrative time off" for about 20 months. Most of the departments employees were working remotely, as a Covid safety measure. It was determined that the analyst wasn't able to work remotely, but rather than provide the analyst with the necessary computer equipment to telecommute, the agency did nothing and allowed the employee to collect a paycheck without working — a cost of $113,713 over the course of the 20 months.

A psychiatric technician at state hospital, meanwhile, was absent for nearly 400 hours between October 2018 and August 2021, a cost of $12,500.

One employee used a state vehicle for his daily commute for three years. Another used a state-owned backflow testing kit for his private plumbing business. Still another used a public boat dock to store his personal boat for more than six years.

The annual audit is the result of 1,527 whistleblower reports received by the state auditor. Of those, 1,088 never made it past the preliminary review. The auditor's office looked into 388 of the cases, and performed independent investigations into 30 of them.

"For nearly 30 years, our investigative work has identified and made recommendations to remediate a total of $584 million
in state spending resulting from improper governmental activities such as inefficiency, theft of state property, conflicts of interest, and personal use of state resources," the auditor said in the report.

Since 1992, the audits have led to 12 convictions, 28 demotions and 104 terminations.

The 2022 audit found nearly $400,000 in improper spending, although more than $300,000 of that didn't seem all that bad. A 1938 law allows certain employers to pay physically or mentally disabled workers a less-than-minimum wage salary. The audit found that a Department of Developmental Services employee failed to fill out the application for the department to pay some of its workers a sub minimum wage; the employee later lied about it.

"Because the responsible employee failed to submit the application, the facility did not receive the certification necessary to apply this exception to the minimum wage laws for calendar year 2019 and January 2020; as a result, the workers were entitled to California’s full minimum wage for the hours they worked during this time," the auditor said in the report.

Follow @hillelaron
Categories / Government, Regional

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.