Monday, March 18, 2013

County DA looking into potential wrongdoing at Discovery Center Authority and parent agency

The Los Angeles County District Attorney is looking at allegations of wrongdoing by Rivers and Mountains Conservancy staff.

In January, the Friends sent a letter to the state attorney general, copied to the county DA and the state office of audits and evaluations, outlining the numerous likely illegal and unethical activities of RMC staff.

Last month, the Friends received a reply stating that the DA's Public Integrity Division is "reviewing the allegations and submitted documents to determine if further investigation is warranted."

In our January letter we outlined our concerns--and backed them up with numerous public, official documents produced by RMC and the Discovery Center Authority.

For example, we drew attention to the troubling likelihood that RMC and the Discovery Center Authority--one and the same, really--had spent $100,000 in state bond money on ineligible fundraising costs.

We also brought attention to the fact that the RMC/authority have been claiming to have 11 acres of federal land leased for the Discovery Center project--but the RMC director has known for at least a year that the responsible federal agency, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, has not approved the project or the lease of land.

We'll be posting these letters to our website soon, so check back.

Even more troubling is that the questionable activities at the Rivers and Mountains Conservancy seem to fit and extend a growing pattern of wrongdoing under its parent, the state Natural Resources Agency.

The LA Times reported in January the state attorney general found that state parks officials had for years deliberately hidden $54 million from the state officials "until it was exposed by a new staff member who described a culture of secrecy and fear at the department."

And later that same month, the paper reported that its own investigation revealed that "the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection hid $3.6 million rather than depositing it into the state's cash-strapped general fund as required."

Given such a pattern, two conclusions can be drawn. First, it suggests that RMC activities have crossed a line--as they have at State Parks and Cal Fire. Second, it suggests that the problems being identified are not isolated occurrences. Instead, they might indicate a problematic and troubling culture within the larger agency.

That too might need some scrutiny by officials.