The president of the Los Angeles Private Industry Council is under fire for allegedly mishandling a $160,000 marketing contract with a public relations firm, soliciting political campaign contributions from his employees and using government dollars to purchase a new 1986 Lincoln Continental, The Times has learned.
Dominick J. Ramos, 50, who earns $76,572 annually as head of a nonprofit agency that controls $42 million a year in federal job training grants, has been the target of inquiries by the Los Angeles Police Department, the FBI, the U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Inspector General and the special investigations unit of the city's Community Development Department, according to City Hall sources.
Although no agency has yet to initiate a formal investigation, the allegations against Ramos pertaining to the public relations contract and the contributions are contained in a complaint filed with the city by one of his vice presidents. The allegation that he misused funds for the automobile appear in a city-ordered financial audit.
Deputy City Mayor Grace M. Davis said that the Private Industry Council (PIC) is so riddled with mismanagement problems that its board of directors should consider replacing Ramos.
"It should be obvious to the Private Industry Council that he probably doesn't belong there," Davis said in an interview.
Ramos, in an interview Wednesday, denied any wrongdoing and blamed the allegations on the "disgruntled" PIC vice president, Arthur P. Lawson, who filed a harassment complaint against Ramos. Ramos said he has not seen the complaint or any other documents alleging impropriety.
"The city is keeping it away from me," Ramos said. "They're blindsiding me, so to speak. In my opinion, there is nothing here. These things come and go. This is not a big deal."
Because of the questions surrounding the Private Industry Council, the City Council's Grants, Housing and Community Development Committee has not yet approved the agency's proposed $1.3 million staff budget for the current fiscal year, which began in July. The PIC requested a 14% budget hike this year for additional staff and increases in rental space, travel expenses and marketing funds.
Federal legislation established the council four years ago to replace programs under the Comprehensive Employment Training Act following instances of widespread fraud in the handling of millions of dollars in job training funds. Under the new arrangement, the federal government distributes funds to local elected officials who have formed a partnership with private industry to provide job training for the unemployed. In the last year, the PIC trained and found jobs for 8,000 Los Angeles residents, Ramos said.
The council's annual budget is approved by the City Council and managed by the local PIC staff, which reports to a board of directors made up of business volunteers.
In Los Angeles, the PIC directors are nominated by the mayor and approved by council members. Mayor Tom Bradley and the City Council currently are conducting an extensive review of the city's partnership with the Private Industry Council. A recent management audit of the nonprofit agency's budget has identified at least $25,000 in questionable expenditures that will have to be repaid to the U.S. Labor Department out of city general funds, according to City Councilman Robert Farrell.
Farrell, the chairman of the council's grants committee, charged in a speech Monday that the PIC board has remained "resistant, uncooperative, uninformed" to attempts over the past three years by city officials to standardize the agency's handling of government contracts.
" . . . we have begun to glean information that clearly demonstrates to us that the PIC is not able to operate independently and separately from the city with regard for the public trust," Farrell said.
At least one PIC director, Frank Velasco, agreed with Farrell that the board was to blame for not keeping tabs on Ramos, his staff or the agency's contracts.
"We didn't have the slightest idea what we passed or why we passed it . . . " said Velasco, who is a program administrator for the state Department of Rehabilitation. "We never had performance standards for the PIC president. He had a free rein to do whatever he wanted . . ."
The allegations against Ramos first became public record when Lawson, 54, the PIC vice president in charge of operations and marketing, filed an inch-thick complaint with the city on Oct. 14. Lawson, who has been interviewed by Los Angeles police detectives, charged that Ramos repeatedly harassed and threatened him in retaliation for his whistle-blowing activities.
Phone Time Cited
In his complaint, Lawson said that Ramos spent numerous hours at work on the telephone soliciting campaign contributions on behalf of City Council members. Ramos also frequently asked his staff and PIC board members to donate to political campaigns, Lawson wrote.