Los Angeles County prosecutors on Thursday began reviewing allegations that child welfare workers misused thousands of dollars worth of gift cards and entertainment tickets meant for foster children.
Prosecutors in the district attorney’s public integrity division are reviewing the findings of county auditors to determine whether the behavior of the workers amounted to a crime, said district attorney spokeswoman Sandi Gibbons.
“If they determine that yes, there is a crime here, then they will start a criminal investigation,” she said.
Gibbons said county auditors handed over their full report to prosecutors Thursday.
The audit was part of the county’s review to determine whether the workers should be disciplined.
Gibbons said a criminal probe would require district attorney investigators to conduct their own interviews and collect evidence, noting that the burden of proof is higher in a criminal trial than in a disciplinary proceeding.
The Department of Children and Family Services said this week that it had taken the first steps to discipline four managers in the agency’s mentoring program as part of its response to the audit.
Among other problems, the audit cited the purchase of 160 tickets in July to see the hit musical “Wicked” as part of a $14,000 gala event for foster children and their mentors.
Only 53 children and roughly the same number of mentors were given tickets. The rest went to department employees and their relatives and guests, along with unidentified “potential mentors” and a number of employees of nonprofit organizations, auditors wrote.
The audit also faulted employees for using gift cards -- bought with county money intended to supply food and clothing to foster children -- to pay for staff luncheons.