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City launches hotline to uncover waste and fraud

Controller Laura Chick says all legitimate telephone tips will be checked out.

January 20, 2007|Tony Barboza | Times Staff Writer

Hoping to encourage more whistle-blowing by city employees and residents, Los Angeles City Controller Laura Chick has launched a 24-hour, confidential fraud hotline.

Chick promised that her Waste and Fraud Unit would investigate all "legitimate and valid" complaints of unethical or illegal activity reported over the hotline's toll-free telephone number: (866) 428-1514.

"Confidentiality absolutely is protected," she said Thursday during a City Hall news conference. "Too often, people don't know where to go when they have a problem. Now, people who have information or concerns to bring forward will have a place to go."

Calls will be routed to the Network, a private call center the city is contracting with for the hotline, at a cost of $45,000 a year. The firm's employees are trained to evaluate whistle-blower tips, Chick said.

They will rank them in order of importance and send reports to the city's three full-time fraud investigators.

Since the Waste and Fraud Unit was established in Chick's office in September 2005, it has received more than 200 complaints, some of which uncovered serious problems.

Chick cited two recent telephone tips.

One led to theft charges against a city employee, who later pleaded guilty; another alleged that a parking lot owner was illegally evading city taxes.

Whistle-blowers also have sparked investigations that have exposed hazing and harassment at the Los Angeles Fire Department and contract improprieties at the city's port and airports, Chick said.

One of the city's most publicized cases, in which the public relations firm Fleishman-Hillard had overbilled the Department of Water and Power by $4.2 million, would not have come to light without whistle-blowers' help, Chick said. The firm's executive and his aide were found guilty in the resulting criminal case and are awaiting sentencing.

"If you look at any large organization -- and human nature -- there are going to be problems," Chick said.

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tony.barboza@latimes.com

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