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California wasted $580,000 on unused office space in San Diego

The state wasted $580,000 by leaving leased office space vacant for four years, and an administrator was improperly reimbursed more than $70,000 for commuting from her Southern California home to her Sacramento office, including lodging and meal costs, California’s auditor said Tuesday.

State Auditor Elaine Howle said her office completed nine investigations of whistle-blower claims received during the last six months of 2008 that turned up “substantiated allegations” in several agencies.

“Through our investigative methods, we found waste of state funds, improper payments, improper contracting and misuse of state resources,” Howle wrote to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Her audit found that the state had paid $580,000 for San Diego office space for the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. But the space sat unused from December 2004 to December 2008. She blamed a combination of miscommunication and bureaucratic bungling.

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In a separate case, a high-level official, formerly with the Office of Spill Prevention and Response in the state Department of Fish and Game, received reimbursements that she was not entitled to for commuting expenses between her Sacramento headquarters and her Southern California residence. The unidentified manager also was paid for lodging and meals near her headquarters and her residence from October 2003 through March 2008.

The expenses totaled $71,747.

“In addition, despite lacking the necessary authority, current and former officials for the spill office allowed Official A to informally claim that her residence was her headquarters,” the audit found.

State law says employees cannot claim per diem expenses for locations within 50 miles of their office.

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The employee charged the state $45,233 for flights between her home in Southern California and her office in Sacramento, and $7,608 in airport parking. She also improperly billed more than $10,000 for lodging within 50 miles of her headquarters; $6,970 for meals and incidentals within 50 miles of her office; and more than $600 for meals and lodging within 50 miles of her residence.

“Moreover, we found several instances in which Official A incurred airport parking expenses for weekend days on which she apparently conducted no state business,” the audit said.

Howle called on the Fish and Game Department to seek recovery of the money. Department officials said they are investigating their options.

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patrick.mcgreevy@latimes.com


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