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Home / News / Ex-Pasadena city employees lose appeal in multi-million dollar embezzlement case

Ex-Pasadena city employees lose appeal in multi-million dollar embezzlement case

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The California Supreme Court refused Wednesday to review the case of a former Pasadena city employee convicted of embezzling millions of dollars from the city.

Danny R. Wooten, who was a management analyst for Pasadena’s Public Works Department, was convicted in November 2018 of 53 felony counts, including embezzlement by a public or private officer, misappropriation of public funds and conflict of interest. He was acquitted of four counts of conflict of interest and one count each of embezzlement by a public or private officer and public officer crime.

He was initially sentenced to 14 years in prison, with the judge later lopping one year off his sentence. He was also ordered to pay nearly $3.7 million in restitution.

Wooten’s co-defendant, Tyrone E. Collins, who owned an electrical contracting company, was convicted of 10 felony counts each of embezzlement by a public or private officer and misappropriation of public funds.

Collins — whose petition for review was also denied by the state’s highest court — was initially sentenced to seven years in state prison, with the judge also lopping one year off his sentence at a later hearing. Collins was ordered to pay $900,000 in restitution.

In an April 27 ruling, a three-justice panel from California’s 2nd District Court of Appeal noted that “substantial evidence showed that Collins aided and abetted Wooten, a city official, to misappropriate the city’s funds.”

“Collins was actively involved with Wooten’s conduct and worked in concert with him to misappropriate city funds. After Collins received a check from Wooten, he put it in one of his accounts and then gave a total of $635,313 back to Wooten through checks and bank-to-bank transfers,” the panel found. “The jury could reasonably infer that appellants worked together and Wooten could not have carried out the misappropriation without Collins’s active participation.”

The appellate court justices added, “Substantial evidence demonstrated that over 10 years, Wooten stole various sums of money, committed numerous fraudulent acts, and used distinct methods to steal from the city while Collins aided and abetted him in various ways.”

The embezzlement was discovered after Wooten’s immediate supervisor resigned and a new supervisor assigned to the city’s underground utility program reviewed the payments that were made, according to the appellate court panel’s opinion.

At the sentencing for the two in January 2019, then-Pasadena Mayor Terry Tornek told the judge that he wanted to convey “the severity of the damage inflicted by the defendants on our relatively small city.”

“Millions of dollars were embezzled from the city over more than a decade. However, the amount of money stolen does not tell the whole story,” Tornek said. “City government can only function effectively if it has the trust and confidence of the people that it serves. The defendants seriously damaged that trust.”

The mayor said the city’s “2,000 hard-working and honorable employees had their reputations unfairly damaged,” and many have conveyed to him their “anger and embarrassment resulting from this embezzlement.” He urged the judge to bring Wooten and Collins “to justice by exacting a heavy penalty that is commensurate with the significant damage that has been done to our city.”

In a statement after the sentencing, Pasadena City Manager Steve Mermell said, “The mayor’s statement conveys the feelings of those of us in the city. While we are glad to see justice served, it does not undo the significant damage done by Mr. Wooten and his accomplice, Mr. Collins.”

Wooten — who had worked for the city for 12 years — was fired for “personnel matters unrelated to the investigation,” according to the city.

Pasadena officials announced in January 2016 that the city had received $5 million from its insurance carrier to settle a claim involving the embezzlement. The payment represented the maximum amount of money that can be paid in connection with the insurance claim filed by the city, which pledged to continue to pursue legal means necessary to obtain a full recovery of the monies stolen.

Following the embezzlement, the city underwent a comprehensive internal financial and personnel audit, changed or increased oversight for many of its financial processes and initiated most of the recommendations announced by a citizen advisory task force on financial administration and internal controls.

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