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Home / Neighborhood / San Gabriel Valley / Pasadena Independent / Former Pasadena City Official, Two Others Charged in $6 Million Embezzlement Scheme

Former Pasadena City Official, Two Others Charged in $6 Million Embezzlement Scheme

by Terry Miller
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By Terry Miller/Photo by Terry Miller

Pasadena City Manager Michael J. Beck, Mayor Bill Bogaard and City Attorney Michele Beal Bagneris held a hurried press conference Tuesday afternoon regarding the arrest of former Pasadena city employee, Danny Wooten. Mr. Wooten was arrested Tuesday in connection with an investigation by the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office into the alleged misappropriation of public funds and embezzlement of $6.4 million from the City of Pasadena.
The former Pasadena Public Works analyst and two of his friends were arrested on charges they embezzled more than $6 million in city money over a decade, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office announced today.

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Danny Wooten

Danny R. Wooten, Tyrone Collins, and Melody Jenkins were arrested this morning by the District Attorney’s Bureau of Investigation. They are charged in a 60-count felony complaint for arrest warrant, case BA430233, with embezzlement, conflict of interest and grand theft with excessive taking allegations.
The case is being prosecuted by Deputy District Attorney Bjorn Dodd with the Public Integrity Division.
Wooten was a management analyst in the city’s Public Works Department, which was in charge of relocating all of the city’s utility lines underground. Between 2004 and March 2014, Wooten is suspected of creating false invoices for the underground utility program and stealing more than $6 million. He allegedly directed more than $2 million of the stolen money to Collins, who owns Collins Electric.Wooten also allegedly gave Jenkins, who was a temporary Pasadena City employee, more than $40,000 in stolen city money.
In addition, Wooten is suspected of setting up bank accounts in his name and directing city money to two churches he was affiliated with – the Southern California Evangelist Jurisdiction Center and the New Covenant Christian Fellowship Center in Pomona.
Prosecutors said the alleged theft was discovered earlier this year when the city ordered an audit.
If convicted, Wooten faces up to 28 years in state prison. Collins faces up to 18 years in state prison. Jenkins faces up to four years in state prison.
City officials provided information about an internal audit conducted into the embezzlement and misappropriation of public funds (see http://www.cityofpasadena.net/Department.aspx?theme=Navy&pageid=8589938720) and offered details on the City’s response and initiatives for greater oversight in the future.

“We are grateful to District Attorney Jackie Lacey and her team for their cooperation and professionalism in the investigation and pursuit of those responsible. I am immensely disappointed that one of our former City employees allegedly exploited his position and leveraged our internal processes for personal gain by stealing taxpayer money and betraying the public’s trust. We will use this experience to reinforce our commitment to good governance through our policies and procedures,” City Manager Beck said.

The City Council will receive a briefing from the City Manager and staff at a public meeting beginning at 5 p.m., Monday, Jan. 5, 2015 in the Council Chamber of City Hall, 100 N. Garfield Ave., second floor.

A City audit completed in November documented that Mr. Wooten allegedly provided as many as 296 potentially fraudulent invoices to the City on behalf of four vendors he was affiliated with for check payments in excess of $6.4 million. The money came from the Underground Utilities Fund that covers the cost of moving overhead power and communications lines underground. Revenues to the Fund come from the underground surtax paid by electric customers.

The audit is now publicly posted on the City’s website at www.cityofpasadena.net/invoiceinvestigation.

Accounting irregularities with the Fund were discovered by City employees in late May 2014. An initial internal investigation was completed and the results were provided to City Manager Beck and City Attorney Michele Beal Bagneris. The District Attorney was notified within days of the preliminary internal investigation. The District Attorney’s Office launched an investigation over the next several months with the cooperation of city officials and a forensic auditor retained by the City. Mr. Wooten’s employment with the City was terminated on July 25, 2014 for personnel matters unrelated to the investigation.

At this time, it is not believed that any other City employees had criminal involvement in this theft of public funds. As the lead agency in this matter, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office is responsible for all additional information regarding the case; the specific charges against Mr. Wooten and information about other possible additional suspects or arrests.

The City audit makes 43 recommendations of which nearly all are expected to be implemented in the coming months. City Manager Beck has already directed several steps be taken, including establishing an internal audit manager position within the City Manager’s Office to direct, manage and coordinate an internal citywide audit program. Recruitment for the auditor position is in the final stages.

In addition, four employees have been placed on paid administrative leave pending review of the personnel investigation and potential disciplinary action.

“This is an unprecedented fraud against the City and our people,” Pasadena Mayor Bill Bogaard said. “Any misuse of taxpayer money is antithetical to our values and commitment to our government. We must, and will, ensure that we enact measures to protect our City from future crimes to every extent possible.”

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