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Investigation: California parks management kept secret $20 million fund

Melissa Block/NPR

Coe Park is California's second-largest state park, spanning more than 87,000 acres.

An investigation by the California Attorney General's Office found that officials at the highest levels of the state Department of Parks and Recreation intentionally kept as much as $20 million hidden beginning in 1996. The surplus was never reported to the state Department of Finance.

More than $54 million was found stashed in two funds last year. The audit shows senior management at the Parks Department intentionally underreported as much as $20 million.

They unintentionally concealed $34 million in one fund, but it’s a different story for the State Parks and Recreation Fund. The audit found money there was hidden unintentionally at first, but then it became “conscious and deliberate.”

Many top parks officials admitted they were concerned about future budget cuts and knew of the concealment. But the investigation failed to determine if former Parks Director Ruth Coleman knew about the hidden funds. She resigned last July when the scandal became public.

The Attorney General interviewed 40 witnesses as part of the investigation. Coleman refused to agree to an interview on the advice of her attorney.

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