Politics, government and public life for Southern California

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

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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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