Updates to our Terms of Use

We are updating our Terms of Use. Please carefully review the updated Terms before proceeding to our website.

Wednesday, June 19, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Shenanigans Alleged in Pasadena

LOS ANGELES (CN) - Pasadena city officials kept a $6.4 million embezzlement scheme at City Hall under wraps for months, allowing three council members to run uncontested for their seats, a voter claims in a federal class action.

James Lomako sued Pasadena and its council members on Feb. 20, asking a judge to stop the March primary election.

Pasadenans were outraged when news of public works official Danny Ray Wooten's arrest broke late last year. Angry residents questioned how city officials had allowed a $6.4 million embezzlement scheme to go unnoticed for years.

The city fired Wooten in June 2014 after uncovering his alleged 11-year scheme to embezzle $6,432,810.98 in public money.

Lomako claims the city delayed going public for another six months, allowing council members Margaret McAustin, Gene Masuda and Steve Madison to run uncontested for their seats.

Lomako says the city did not reveal details of the scheme until Dec. 30, 2014, about two weeks after the nomination period for city elections had closed.

City officials said they did not want to compromise the Los Angeles County District Attorney's investigation.

But Lomako claims that did not "provide a rational basis" for withholding details to Pasadenans before Wooten's Dec. 30, 2014 arrest.

Lomako claims that as a prospective District Two Pasadena city councilman he would have "sought and received the nomination" had the city gone public before nominations closed.

But city spokesman William Boyers told Courthouse News that Lomako is not on the March ballot because he missed the filing deadline by two months.

Boyer forwarded a copy of a Feb. 17, 2015 letter addressed to Lomako . The letter says that Lomako asked for a blank nomination form on Feb. 13 this year, and returned it on Feb. 17 - but the filing deadline was Dec. 12, 2014. The city clerk's letter also states that the clerk told Lomako on Feb. 13 that he could file a write-in candidate statement, but Lomako "declined to do so."

As it stands, incumbent District Two Councilwoman Margaret McAustin is running for the seat unopposed.

"The practical impact of the disclosure delay is that the public was kept unaware of vital public information during the nominations period," Lomako claims. "By the time it was disclosed to the public, the nominations period was closed and three incumbent council members - defendants Margaret McAustin, Gene Masuda, and Steve Madison - were running for their offices unopposed."

Lomako, whom McAustin defeated when he ran in the 2007 election, claims the District Attorney's Office had asked that the city keep its involvement confidential to ensure the "integrity of the investigation and prosecution."

City Manager Michael Beck and City Attorney Michele Bagneris in the summer of 2014 issued a gag order on the D.A.'s investigation to city department heads, Mayor Bill Bogaard and city councilmen and councilwomen, Lomako says.

It was not until after the city commissioned firm KPMG to forensically audit Wooten that the city went public, according to the complaint.

Wooten, formerly an analyst at Pasadena's public works department, is accused of falsifying invoices from 2004 until 2014 as he managed the task of moving all of the city's utility lines underground. He allegedly diverted $2 million in public money to the owner of an electric company, Tyrone Collins, and $40,000 in city money to Melody Jenkins, a temporary city employee.

Collins and Jenkins were also charged in a 60-count criminal complaint with embezzlement, conflict of interest and grand theft.

Prosecutors claim Wooten also diverted money to two churches he belonged to, the Southern California Evangelist Jurisdiction Center and the New Covenant Christian Fellowship Center in Pomona.

Boyers told Courthouse News that the city had not been served with the lawsuit.

"We can't really comment on something we haven't seen," Boyers said.

"Since there was apparently a lawsuit filed, there probably won't be much more comment from the city beyond this letter [above]," Boyer said.

Lomako wants the court to block the March 10 primary and the April 17 elections, calling them deprivation of rights under color of authority of law, interference with rights, and illegal expenditure or waste of taxpayer funds.

He is represented by Philip Koebel of Pasadena.

Categories / Uncategorized

Subscribe to Closing Arguments

Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.