Pasadena sues former employee to recover $6.4 million in public funds

Pasadena officials sued a former employee in civil court Tuesday to recover millions in public funds allegedly embezzled over the course of a decade.

Former management analyst Danny Wooten was arrested in January and accused of authorizing more than $6.4 million in questionable payments from a city fund used to pay for burying overhead utilities.

Los Angeles County prosecutors have filed criminal charges against Wooten and two of his associates. Pasadena filed the civil lawsuit to "seek full recovery of the funds lost and to restore the public's trust," Mayor Terry Tornek said in a news release.

The civil lawsuit names several people the city suspects of having received money from the alleged embezzlement, including Wooten, and his associate Tyrone Collins, owner of Collins Electric, and Wooten's wife, Laveta. Two churches Wooten was associated with, as well as a church member, Melody Jenkins, are also included in the suit. 

A city audit found that Danny Wooten exercised unusual authority over a fund that paid to place power lines and other utilities underground. He redirected millions of dollars using little more than apparently forged signatures and fake documents.

The money flowed to bank accounts associated with Collins, Jenkins and the churches, auditors found. Some of the funds returned to Danny Wooten via cashier's checks, according to the city's claim.

Collins was paid $3.5 million from the undergrounding fund over 163 different invoices, according to the claim. One of the churches that Danny Wooten helped oversee, the Southern California Evangelical Jurisdiction, got $2.1 million from the city. The church where Wooten was pastor received more than $700,000 in public funds.

Jenkins, a former temporary city employee, got $43,985 from the city for performing labor and services on utility undergrounding projects, the suit claims. She is not a licensed electrical contractor, according to the suit.

It's not clear how the money was spent, but church materials show that Danny Wooten helped raise the money to renovate a Pomona building into a home for one of the churches. He also organized a traveling gospel act that toured the country performing a play he wrote and directed, according to audit documents.

The suit claims that the city suffered damages worth $5,959,710 and asks for three times that amount in restitution, as well as court fees and penalties worth up to $11,000 per violation.

Wooten, Jenkins and Collins were released after posting bail and are awaiting hearings in their criminal case.

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