Politics, government and public life for Southern California

Just how much waste and fraud has Wendy Greuel found as city controller?

Sherman Oaks Homeowners Association mayoral debate.

Rebecca Hill/KPCC

Los Angeles City Controller Wendy Greuel answers questions during the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Association mayoral debate. Her new TV ad - the first in this contest - raised questions from one of her opponents.

Wendy Greuel’s mayoral campaign released its first television ad Tuesday to promote the work she’s done as L.A. city controller. She says she’s identified $160 million in waste - but it turns out that numbers are a tricky thing.

The 30-second spot is the first TV ad in this year's Los Angeles mayoral campaign – and it immediately drew criticism from one of Greuel’s opponents.

“As city controller, I found $160 million in waste and fraud – your tax dollars squandered,” Greuel says in the ad. “ As mayor, I can stop the waste because I know where it is.”

On her campaign website, Greuel, who was elected controller in 2009, identifies a total of $175 million in what she calls “wasteful spending, fraudulent activity and abuse of city resources.” 

Before the campaign released the ad to the media , Eric Garcetti’s campaign cried foul. A statement from the Garcetti campaign argued that as controller, Greuel found $96.7 million in waste – a figure the controller's own website seems to back up. Statements from 2010, 2011 and 2012 indicated that Greuel's audits identified a total of $96.5 million. So, why the discrepancy with the $175 million figure on her campaign website and the $160 million number in the ad?

The Wendy Greuel mayoral campaign says her audit on street furniture identified $80 million in lost funds. Not quite. The audit (and a year-end statement) found that the city lost $23.1 million. The report warned that L.A. could miss another $57 million without a contract amendment, but it didn't identify that figure as money the city lost or squandered.

An audit of the Real Property Trust Fund found a loss of $7 million.  (A year-end report on the controller’s performance backs up that figure.) The Greuel campaign website inflates that figure  to $24 million. One possible explanation: the controller’s audit found that over a 12-year period, $25 million that could have gone into the city’s General Fund went instead to council members’ discretionary accounts. 

So, what's a couple of million here and there?

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