Audit documents state employees sleeping on the job, riding in limos, holding illegal raffle

A UC Davis professor spent $996 for three limousine trips and collected $197 in other improper travel reimbursements during two months in 2015, according to a new state report.

A state Department of Industrial Relations employee was photographed numerous times sleeping at his work station or texting and reading on his personal cellphone. The employee’s estimated “down time” over a roughly yearlong period cost taxpayers an estimated $5,411.

An administrative office within the Department of Corrections hosted an illegal raffle for charity in December 2016. Tickets cost $1 each, and prizes included gift baskets containing ammunition and alcohol. State auditors said raffling alcohol constituted illegal sales.

These examples are among six substantiated incidents of fraud, waste and abuse the California State Auditor included in its regular report on “improper governmental activities.”

The Davis professor worked in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. His travel activities helped bring in donations earmarked to support his research and education activities, the auditor wrote.

“However,” the report stated, “the professor is still required to abide by UC travel and entertainment policies.”

The professor reimbursed the improper expenditures, and the auditors faulted university bureaucrats for allowing the expenses in the first place.

Tips from whistle-blowers prompted the investigations, which found state employees breaking the law, wasting state resources and failing to do the jobs for which taxpayers paid them, the report said.

Other cases summarized in the report include:

—An analyst for the state Department of Social Services sent or received 398 personal emails from her state account in 10 months ending May 2016, mostly regarding her child’s school, her religion and personal finances.

—A psychiatric technician at Atascadero State Hospital near San Luis Obispo did not report frequent absences on his time card, but reported numerous hours of overtime. He collected $7,540 in improper overtime pay within a year.

—A Department of Water Resources employee failed to record frequent part-day absences on her time card. Within six months, she was paid an estimated $5,200 for at least 149 hours she did not work. She was gone so often she neglected her duties and repeatedly missed deadlines.

In all six cases summarized in the auditor’s report, the offending employees’ managers addressed the problems with counseling, training and performance monitoring, the report said.

In the first half of 2017, the state auditor received 662 tips and investigated 677 new and open cases, the report said. Preliminary review found insufficient evidence for investigation in 435 cases. The office made further inquiry into the remaining 242 cases, and investigated 50 of them with help from other departments.

Together the six substantiated cases summarized in the report cost taxpayers $19,320 — plus the unquantifiable cost of negative social impacts such as eroded trust in government, failure to perform mandated duties and abuse of authority, the report said.

The state auditor investigates complaints according to the California Whistleblower Act, which protects the identity of tipsters and the privacy of personnel involved in the confidential investigations, the report said.

Since the state auditor activated its whistle-blower hotline in 1993, it has identified improper governmental activities that have cost the state a total of $576.6 million, the report said.

Cook writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.

morgan.cook@sduniontribune.com

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