Hidden parks cash deliberate, says new report

12:53 PM, Jan 4, 2013   |    comments
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Investigators with the California attorney general are calling last summer's saga of hidden state parks cash a series of mistakes that nonetheless ultimately led to a "conscious and deliberate" cover-up.

The report issued Friday afternoon is the final formal investigation into 2011's revelations of more than $54 million in cash squirreled away into two parks accounts, money never reported to state budget officials or the Legislature.

"It is now clear," said state resources secretary John Laird in a statement, "that this is a problem that could have been fixed by a simple correction years ago instead of being unaddressed for so long that it turned into a significant blow to public trust in government."

The attorney general's investigators interviewed 40 different parks employees, and the report issued Friday -- the executive summary plus transcripts of those interviews -- totals more than 2,000 pages.

The hidden cash was in two separate accounts: $34.5 million in the state's off highway vehicle fund (OHV), and another $20.4 million in the state parks recreation fund (SPRF).

The conclusions of the inquiry differ based on the fund. Investigators say the hidden OHV money was a result of "a variety of multi-million-dollar events" ranging from dollars either borrowed to wrongly credited to the OHV fund by lawmakers.

But the investigation placed the blame for the hidden SPRF cash more squarely on parks officials, though it stops short of actually explaining why the secret was kept for perhaps as long as two decades.

"The original cause or causes of the SPRF balance disparities may never be fully understood," says the report's executive summary. Nonetheless, investigators say multiple parks officials knew of the money over the years.  Some tried to clear up the reasons for its existence; others, say investigators, intentionally kept the money's existence quiet.

But that's as far as investigators go in pointing any kind of finger of blame.

"Conclusively identifying everyone who knew of the funds and gave orders that they not be reported," says the report, "is difficult."

A spokesperson for Attorney General Kamala Harris says the report is the end of their investigation, with no charges of breaking the law being contemplated.  That may be, in part, because the money couldn't be touched without approval by the Legislature.

"The monies," says the report, "seem to have represented an essentially useless reserve that could not be spent by the parks department as there was no legislative appropriation to do so."


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