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O.C. Auditor Investigates D.A.'s Office

The Region

The probe focuses on allegations that a Rackauckas aide used law-enforcement funds for food and alcohol while lobbying.

October 25, 2002|Stuart Pfeifer | Times Staff Writer

Orange County's auditor launched an investigation Thursday into accusations that district attorney's officials misused funds earmarked for law enforcement activities to buy food and alcohol while lobbying.

Auditor-Controller David E. Sundstrom sent Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas a letter Thursday demanding that he provide receipts and other documentation for expenses billed to the Special Appropriations Fund that were not related to criminal or civil investigations.

In June, the Orange County Grand Jury issued a report that, among other things, accused one of Rackauckas' top aides, Donald Blankenship, of using more than $4,600 intended for law enforcement to buy alcohol and meals for politicians, lobbyists, law enforcement officers and others. Office policy allowed the fund to be used only for investigative expenses, such as witness protection and undercover operations, the grand jury said.

"Mr. Sundstrom's duties are to see that the law and county policies are complied with when county money is being spent," said John Nakane, chief assistant auditor-controller.

Nakane said his office will seek reimbursement from the district attorney's office if the investigation determines that expenses were inappropriately billed to the fund.

Rackauckas declined to comment.

The use of a special fund has emerged as an increasingly heated issue this week, with several members of the Board of Supervisors saying they were concerned.

The grand jury recommended that Rackauckas follow the policy that required the special fund be used only for law enforcement.

But Rackauckas changed the policy to allow the fund to be used for any "matter of interest," including legislative lobbying.

He changed his mind a few weeks later, saying lobbying expenses will be billed to the office's general fund, not the special witness fund.

State Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer, whose office helped the grand jury prepare its report, criticized Rackauckas in a letter last week for initially ignoring the grand jury's recommendation on the issue. He said the action "held [his] office and all of law enforcement up to ridicule."

Lockyer added: "I commend you for making this revision, which I hope you will keep in effect throughout your administration."

County rules prohibit employees from billing for alcohol, except for the unusual occurrence when an undercover officer drinks alcohol during an investigation.

In its report, the grand jury accused Blankenship of billing the county twice for some expenses, collecting a $32 per diem for meals, then billing the special witness fund for meals.

Blankenship repaid the county $209.65 to cover the double-billing, according to Rackauckas' written response to the grand jury.

Sundstrom asked Rackauckas Thursday to provide an explanation and receipts for all expenses Blankenship billed to the fund that were not related to investigations. He also asked the district attorney to provide documentation for any "meals, alcohol or lobbying expenses" that were billed to the fund during the 2001-2002 fiscal year by any district attorney employee.

Sundstrom asked Rackauckas to respond to the request within two weeks.

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