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Criminal review of parks department is ongoing, officials say

California Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris speaks at a news conference in Los Angeles.
(Patrick T. Fallon / Los Angeles Times)

SACRAMENTO -- Officials at the California attorney general’s office say they have reversed course and begun a deeper examination of the accounting scandal at the state parks department that could result in criminal charges.

The existence of an ongoing probe was disclosed Wednesday during a legislative hearing on state parks. It previously appeared that neither the Sacramento County district attorney nor the state attorney general would pursue a criminal case, much to the chagrin of some lawmakers.

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During the hearing, Sen. Noreen Evans (D-Santa Rosa) questioned why officials of the Department of Parks and Recreation weren’t facing criminal charges for hiding millions of dollars from the governor’s office and the Legislature.

“Fraud is a crime,” she said.

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Peter Southworth, a supervising attorney general, said “my office is still reviewing the matter,” but he won’t comment further. He also wouldn’t say if Ruth Coleman, the former parks director who was ousted when the hidden money was revealed last year, would be subpoenaed.

Lynda Gledhill, a spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office, confirmed that a criminal review was underway.

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“The decision was made to undertake a more thorough review,” she said.

The attorney general’s office released a report in January saying that some parks officials had deliberately hidden about $20 million in a department account for years. However, Sacramento County Dist. Atty. Jan Scully declined to pursue a criminal case, saying the state’s review didn’t adequately identify any potential crimes or suspects.

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A subsequent letter from Senior Assistant Atty. Gen. Michael P. Farrell said state officials agreed with that decision.

“Nothing disclosed by any person ... has prompted this office to commence a criminal investigation,” he wrote.

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ALSO:

No criminal investigation of state parks accounting scandal

California parks officials deliberately hid millions, report says

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Parks agency had money problems years before scandal, audit finds

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