Tuesday evening a question was addressed to the Pasadena Unified School District representatives present regarding bond money that may, or may not, have been looted from the $350 million building facilities fund known as Measure TT. It was a good question, one that went to the heart of the PUSD's ability to manage so large a sum. There is an investigation initiated by the PUSD going on, and it has been "in process" (so to speak) since the beginning of December.
The audience member wanted to know just where that investigation was going and, if I recall correctly, exactly how much had gone missing. Josh for whatever reason didn't care for that one, and interpreted the question in a far less direct way. Which enabled the PUSD personnel most familiar with the investigation to avoid answering the question altogether.
In case you are not aware of what we're talking about, here is an article that ran in the San Gabriel Valley Tribune titled "Pasadena Unified hires independent auditor to conduct billing probe" (click here)." It was published on December 6, 2012.
Pasadena Unified School District has hired an independent auditor to investigate improper billing practices related to its $350 million Measure TT capital improvement program. The district has turned to Glendora-based Vicenti Lloyd Stutzman, spokesman Adam Wolfson said Thursday.
It's the same firm that Pasadena City College hired after two administrators were caught in a bribery probe by the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office this summer.
PUSD placed facilities supervisor David Azcarraga and bond consultant Robin Brown on leave Wednesday, and terminated four Measure TT contracts. District board members and administrators have declined to comment about details of the probe, calling it a personnel issue.
The D.A.'s Office is not involved in the PUSD investigation, and no criminal complaints have been filed.
Measure TT, passed by Pasadena voters in 2008, provided enough funding for renovation and construction projects and nearly 30 PUSD schools. An independent auditor, Vavrinek Trine Day and Co., provides annual reports that are reviewed by a Citizens Oversight Committee, but no billing irregularities were uncovered in a fiscal 2011-12 review.
Unfortunately, once an investigation is announced, there is nothing more that will get said until it is completed. The cone of silence descends. And should the investigation never come to a conclusion? Then it becomes a permanent investigation, and whatever juicy nuggets of truth might otherwise be available get sealed in safe somewhere, never to see the light of day.
I am not saying that this is the case here, and we just might see a report issued soon that will answer many of the questions people have about the Azcarraga-Brown Affair. Hopefully then we will get the information we need.
However, other things do happen from time to time. Here in Sierra Madre investigations have been ongoing in the Bob Matheson matter, the EVG Gas Station card skimming scandal, and John Harabedian's controversial City Council election campaign postcard. The one that portrayed what appeared to be uniformed Sierra Madre PD officers nattily decked out in their official issue blues. None of these investigations have ever been concluded, so we have yet to hear any word about where these inquiries might have gone. Something that I am fairly certain select parties are perfectly content with.
While we are at it, here is another article that details a questionable bond money matter involving the PUSD and Measure TT money. It is titled "PUSD consultant paid more than $800,000 before being fired" (click here). It ran in The Tattler's favorite newspaper, the Pasadena Star News, on May 11, 2011.
School board officials Tuesday called for an investigation into $824,860 in payments to a consulting firm working on the Pasadena Unified's Measure TT construction bond. The district will open its investigation into the matter in closed session on May 24.
SCMC Incorporated of Thousand Oaks, a one-man consulting firm, earned the large sum during a three-year period. Acting as the owner's representative, SCMC was hired to provide oversight of contractors for the district - including those building the new Blair Middle School.
However, some school board members question whether the district was looking close enough at the actions of SCMC, which prompted the probe.
"First of all it's a lot of money and second it begs the question of where this money is really going," PUSD board member Scott Phelps said.
The district ended its contract with SCMC last fall. SCMC owner Gerald Schober declined to comment and referred any questions about his contract back to the superintendent's office. Accountability on bond projects has been an historically thorny issue at the PUSD.
Ultimately, the district exhausted all of its funds from the 1997 Measure Y bond before many of the projects slated for construction were completed.
"Given Measure Y, I would have assumed certain board members would have been super vigilant in their scrutiny of invoices and the quality of the work," PUSD board member Ramon Miramontes said. "We have to ask about control costs or else we haven't learned a thing."
As Josh Moran's preferred newspaper reporter Brian Charles so drily put it, "Accountability on bond projects has been an historically thorny issue at the PUSD." Yes, indeed.
You will notice in the passage cited above that School Board member Ramon Miramontes mentions Measure Y as a precedent that should inspire vigilance on these matters. There is, of course, a newspaper article available about the Measure Y debacle, with the source this time being the Pasadena Weekly (click here). The title is "The great Pasadena bond caper," and it ran on October 23, 2008.
Poor oversight and record-keeping by the Pasadena Unified School District allowed thieves to embezzle tens of thousands of dollars raised through 1997's $240 million Measure Y school improvement bond, the Weekly has learned.
Superintendent Edwin Diaz told the paper this week that he contacted Pasadena police earlier this year after auditors discovered several spending discrepancies, including an $80,000 payment in late 2006 for nonexistent construction work at Washington Middle School.
Shortly after arriving on the job in March 2007, Diaz ordered an audit of all PUSD management activities, an effort that also uncovered alleged misuse of funding for the district's Pasadena LEARNs program. The district launched an internal investigation into Measure Y spending and hired a private auditor-investigator in late July 2007, then turned findings over to police in March.
Pasadena police Detective Lt. John Dewar confirmed that police found significant evidence of wrongdoing, but said that in June the LA County District Attorney's office declined to file charges in court because the school district's records of Measure Y expenditures were inadequate to mount a prosecution.
"It appeared there had been a theft of at least $80,000 - maybe much more," said Dewar, who also considered some payments for work at other school sites suspect. "But when we filed the case with the DA's office it was rejected, basically on the ground that the school district couldn't verify what work was done, if any, or who did it, and didn't have any viable records, so prosecution was just impossible."
Kind of an astonishing situation. Thieves took off with an undetermined amount of money, and the Pasadena Unified School District couldn't prove that they even had that money in the first place. The necessary paperwork didn't exist. As the article goes on to say, nothing ever came of the investigations into this one, the DA refused to touch it because of the PUSD's atrocious record keeping, and the thieves went on to enjoy their ill-gotten gains free from any inconvenient intrusions by law enforcement. Apparently in this case, crime did pay. Community housing people take note.
So yes, there really are lots of questions that could be asked. You just need to get them past Josh Moran first.