California State Custodian Didn’t Work for 4 years, Collected $185,000 in Pay and Benefits

A California Department of General Services custodian did almost no work for four years but collected $185,000 in pay and benefits through a fraudulent scheme with his supervisor, according to a California State Auditor investigative report published Thursday. The custodian and his boss, neither of whom are identified in the report, coordinated from 2016 through 2020 to collect the custodian’s unearned paycheck and then to split the money, according to the report. The pair “very likely engaged in a criminal conspiracy” and “also appear to have violated sections of the Penal Code that prohibit the embezzlement and misappropriation of public funds and the falsification of accounts by a public employee,” the report states.

The auditor’s office contacted the Department of General Services in December 2020 after receiving allegations of fraud, according to the report. The department discovered supporting evidence and sent it to the Department of Justice in January 2021, but the DOJ closed the investigations “without providing an explanation for its decision,” the report said. DOJ, in a statement late Thursday afternoon, disputed auditor’s account.

“While the California Department of Justice does not typically announce our investigations to the public, it is inaccurate to say that the investigation of this case was closed,” the department said. We appreciate the state auditor’s work here and their office’s effort to add to our existing investigation.” The auditor’s office pursued its own investigation, eventually securing admissions from both the custodian and supervisor, according to the report. The report indicates the custodian and the supervisor resigned. The Department of General Services didn’t immediately respond to questions. The investigative report summarized the department’s response, saying it would contact law enforcement and pursue disciplinary action against the supervisor.

“DGS added that the alleged behavior is a violation of its values and it will review its policies and procedures to prevent these activities from recurring,” the report states. The supervisor hired the custodian, whom he had worked with previously at a state agency, in November 2016. The custodian stopped coming into work about a month later, when the two initiated the scheme, according to the report. The supervisor filed false time sheets on behalf of the custodian for nearly four years, for a total of $142,000 in monthly pay and $43,000 in benefits, according to the report. The supervisor delivered the custodian a paycheck every month around payday for the duration of the scheme, and the custodian gave his boss cash payments in exchange, the report said.

The two men provided different accounts of how much money they each took home from the checks, according to the report. The custodian admitted that the only work he did in the four-year period was delivering some documents “two or three times” to the Department of General Services’ Sacramento headquarters. A former building manager who oversaw the supervisor failed to provide “even minimal oversight” of the roughly 20 employees he oversaw, according to the report. “Had the building manager exerted even minimal effort in executing his duties as a supervisor to ensure accurate time and attendance records, he would have noticed that the custodian was absent,” the report states. Even after receiving multiple complaints about the supervisor, the building manager took no action, enabling the supervisor to carry out up to about $99,000 in additional abuses in coordination with another employee, who was an office technician, according to the report. The scheme came to light when the Department of General Services hired a new manager in December 2020. The manager found documentation saying the custodian had retired in August 2020, but when he started asking around, no one in the office knew the individual, according to the report.

Click here to read the full article at the Sacramento Bee

Compton City Council Election Overturned in Wake of Vote Rigging Scandal

Results of a Compton City Council race decided by one vote have been overturned following an election rigging scandal that prompted criminal charges against the winner last year.

Two-term Councilman Isaac Galvan must be replaced by his challenger, Andre Spicer, after a judge determined that four of the votes cast in the election were submitted by people who did not live in the council district that the two men were vying to represent, according to a 10-page ruling issued Friday by Superior Court Judge Michelle Williams Court.

After a contentious primary, Galvan and Spicer advanced to a runoff in June 2021, which Galvan won, 855 to 854. With the four illegal ballots disqualified, Court ruled that Spicer was the rightful winner of the election by a tally of 854 to 851.

Calls to Galvan and Spicer were not immediately returned Monday. Spicer, a Compton native and entrepreneur, told NBC he was “elated” by the ruling.

It was not immediately clear when Spicer would take office. A spokesman for the Los Angeles County Registrar referred questions to the city. Compton Mayor Emma Sharif did not immediately return a call seeking comment Monday.

The municipal contest drew attention in August, when the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office charged Galvan with election rigging and bribery.

Prosecutors alleged that Galvan conspired with primary opponent Jace Dawson to direct voters from outside the council district to cast ballots for Galvan in the June runoff against Spicer. Galvan was also accused of trying to bribe an elections official with concert tickets, according to the criminal complaint. The official immediately reported the attempt, according to Dean Logan, the county’s top elections official.

Dawson, Kimberly Chaouch, Toni Sanae Morris, Barry Kirk Reed and Reginald Orlando Streeter were charged with two counts each of conspiracy to commit election fraud last summer. When she ruled on Spicer’s election challenge Friday, Court found that Chaouch, Morris, Streeter and a man named Jordan Farr Jefferson all voted in the runoff between Spicer and Galvan despite not living in the Compton City Council’s second district.

Chaouch, Morris, Streeter and Jefferson all listed Dawson’s address in Compton as their home when registering to vote in the race, according to the 10-page ruling.

Six days after the race, Chaouch admitted on a recorded line that she actually lived in the Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles and that Dawson had her register to vote from his address, court records show.

Click here to read the full article in the LA Times

Phone Scammers Threaten Victims With Arrest, Collect Millions in ‘Fines’

Photo Courtesy of 401(K) 2013, Flickr

Photo Courtesy of 401(K) 2013, Flickr

The average American commits three felonies a day. That’s the estimate from Boston civil-liberties attorney Harvey Silverglate, who says the nation has so many vague laws, that honest people are constantly breaking them without even knowing it.

So when scammers posing as employees of the FBI, IRS or U.S. marshals call people on the phone and tell them they’ve broken some law, who knows, it may even be true.

However, regardless of whether the person receiving the phone call has actually broken a law, the real FBI, IRS and U.S. marshals don’t call people up and threaten to arrest them unless they immediately follow instructions to pay thousands of dollars with a prepaid debit card.

Law enforcement officials have described these calls as highly intimidating. The scammer typically begins by advising the targets that there are federal charges against them, and then threatening legal action and arrest. If questioned, the caller gets more aggressive, warning of frozen bank accounts and confiscated property.

Next, the fake government agent says it will cost thousands of dollars in fees, taxes or court costs to resolve the matter and avoid arrest. Specific instructions are given on how to buy a prepaid debit card and make a payment within the hour. Sometimes the scammer insists on staying on the phone until the victim returns with the card and reads the numbers, warning that if it takes too long, the fees will increase.

The U.S. Marshals Service recently issued a warning that phone scammers impersonating marshals were calling homes in Cincinnati, Ohio. Authorities in Tennessee and Michigan also reported a holiday season uptick in this particularly nasty telephone fraud. And it’s happening in Los Angeles, too.

Woodland Hills resident Lucy Silva said she first received one of these threatening calls on her cellphone about two years ago, and the most recent one within the last month.

“He said if I didn’t send them $3,000 immediately, they were going to come right over and arrest me,” Silva said. “I happened to be in New York at the time, so I just said to him, ‘Hey, bring it on.’”

Silva, a hair stylist, said one of her clients received a scam call from someone pretending to be her grandson, stating that he was in Peru and needed money right away.

“Her grandson really was in Peru,” Silva said, “and this guy knew it. He even knew how many siblings he had.”

The scam was foiled when the grandmother quizzed the scammer about the names of her other grandchildren. He hung up the phone.

Impersonation scams are made easier with social media sites like Facebook, which display the names of friends and family. Be cautious about accepting “friend requests” from total strangers who live in places like Nigeria.

Many of these con games are phoned in from Third World countries. The caller’s phone number is sometimes spoofed so that a real law enforcement agency phone number shows up on the Caller ID.

Internet technology has made scamming much easier and more profitable, and so has the growth in the use of prepaid debit cards.

Americans now spend about $80 billion a year on prepaid debit cards, an amount that has doubled since 2010. But at least one of these products was pulled from the market because of its popularity with online and telephone swindlers.

Green Dot, a Pasadena-based company, stopped selling its MoneyPak product in 2014. The popular green-and-white payment cards had a unique numerical code on the back that allowed anyone who obtained the code, anywhere in the world, to “unlock” the money and “reload” another debit card, in complete anonymity.

In 2013, consumers lost $30 million dollars to scams involving MoneyPak cards, by Green Dot’s estimate. The Federal Trade Commission says consumers reported losing $42.86 million to fraud involving prepaid debit products that year, but officials suspect that the total could be much higher because many victims do not report that they’ve been scammed.

If you get one of these calls, the FBI advises, resist the pressure to act quickly. Always be cautious when someone insists that you must use a specific payment method, which the government would not do. If you feel threatened, call the local police department.

Or you could tell the scammer that the National Security Agency is monitoring your calls and wants you to keep all callers on the line for at least two minutes so they can get their coordinates.

Who knows, it may even be true.