SIMI VALLEY : Quake Repairs in District Investigated

Federal investigators are examining the state's files on earthquake repairs in Simi Valley schools and have questioned school officials on damage assessment procedures, state and school district officials said.

Lowell Schultze, the district's top business official, and Gary Nottingham, the district's top facilities maintenance official, said they were questioned last month by two investigators from the Federal Emergency Management Agency's office of the inspector general.

'I really don't have any idea what it's all about," Schultze said. "I'm not sure what they were investigating."

Schultze said he answered questions from the investigators for about 30 minutes. He said the questioning focused on damage survey reports that district, state and federal officials completed for the $14 million to $16 million in damage the district sustained in the Northridge earthquake.

He said the investigators are scheduled to return next week to meet with district Supt. Mary Beth Wolford.

Rick Ranous, senior structural engineer with the state Office of Emergency Services, said representatives from the inspector general's office have taken all his files for the Simi Valley Unified School District. He said that the investigation may have contributed to delaying earthquake repairs on Simi Valley school buildings.

Schultze, however, said he does not think the investigation is delaying repairs. "We have not stopped because of this," he said.

FEMA officials said, as a matter of policy, they do not confirm or deny the existence of investigations by the inspector general's office. Paul Lillis, assistant inspector general for investigations, said "we do have a lot of ongoing investigations in the Los Angeles area."

FEMA spokesman Phil Cogan said investigators from the FEMA inspector general's office are deputized special agents with the power to make arrests and carry weapons. In addition to referring criminal charges to state or federal authorities, they can seek to recover federal funds by filing lawsuits, he said.

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