Report: LA County Probation Dept. records fail to track expenses

The Los Angeles County Probation Department's record keeping make it difficult to account for how monies are spent, according to a scathing report presented today by the county's CEO.

"The problems of this department are shocking,'' said Chief Executive Officer William Fujioka.

In April, the Board of Supervisors asked staffers to determine how $79.5 million in county funding — intended to improve the department's juvenile halls, camps and management — was spent. The dollars were allocated to comply with a 2004 settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice and were meant to fund hiring of an additional 901 employees.

"Because of the inadequacy of Probation's records, the (CEO's office) is not able to verify ... whether all of the funds were expended for their intended purpose,'' the report says. Staffers "cannot report with certainty which positions were hired or where those staff were deployed.''

Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky was not pleased with what he heard.

"This sounds to me like it's a colossal mess,'' he said.

Donald Blevins, who took over as the county's chief probation officer in April, said a sample review of the department's Downey facility showed that 146 of 548 employees reportedly working at that location were actually deployed elsewhere.

The Downey facility accounts for about 10 percent of the department's total workforce. Blevins estimated that as many as 1,500 to 2,000 employees overall may be working somewhere other than reported.

As a result, it's possible that the department employs "ghost employees'' or "people who are collecting a paycheck but not showing up every day,'' said Supervisor Gloria Molina, who added that she hoped that doesn't turn out to be the case.

"We are aggressively tracking this,'' Blevins said. He added that it was his job to make sure that the monies are appropriately spent, "but the bottom line is that until I know where everybody is ... I can't manage programs.''

The department employs about 5,800 people at more than 50 different locations with a budget of about $630 million, according to its website.

It was suggested months ago that the department order employees to pick up their paycheck in person to help sort out the mess, but direct deposits and the fact that some facilities are a three-hour drive from the administrative offices has drawn out the process.

"If it was your own checkbook that was paying for this, believe me you'd be up all night along trying to figure out where it's going,'' said Molina, who questioned whether staffers were working intensely enough to reconcile disparities in the department.

The report was originally requested by Yaroslavsky and Supervisor Don Knabe in response to the department's request for $27.8 million of additional funding.

"The money we are (already) spending may be going down the rat hole,'' Yaroslavsky said today.

The Department of Justice concluded that the Probation Department was in compliance with the settlement agreement in 2009.

"We're darn lucky, it seems to me, that we were cleared by (the Department of Justice),'' Yaroslavsky said.

"I can say that conditions at our juvenile halls have improved,'' Blevins responded.

While the board did not call for a formal audit, the supervisors asked staffers from both the CEO's office and the Probation Department to work quickly to fully reconcile employee records and spending and report back.

"We're not blaming you, because we know you inherited it,'' Molina told Blevins. "But we're asking you to really take command of it.''