On The Money Investigation: California’s Missing Millions

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — A CBS13 investigation reveals that at least than one million dollars in state property is missing, but the state agencies can’t seem to find it.

You should care — you paid for it.

The California Highway Patrol knows how to track down criminals but they can’t seem to find some of their own property. The missing property includes two desktop computers worth more than $28,000, 21 laptop computer which are also valued around $28,000.

All totalled $153,000 worth of CHP property is missing, equipment that you paid for.

“I just think it’s a typical example of how broke our system is,” says one tax payer we talked to.

But there’s more — three plasma monitors costing a total of $17,000 are missing from Caltrans. Two digital video recorders from the DMV costing a total of $38,000 have vanished.

And a solar turbine worth $11,000 and once in the hands of the state Department of General Services is gone. And that’s just the beginning.

Our investigation initially found that for three years, from 2008 to 2011, two and a half million dollars worth of various items have just disappeared from 15 state agencies.

“Wow, that’s a lot of money,” says Holly Anderson who’s a taxpayer from Saratoga. “That’s crazy.”

Most of that, 1.8 million dollars worth of stuff, is listed as missing from one state agency — the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. In all more than 1,300 items gone, either lost or stolen, from the CDCR alone – a $10,000 food mixer, an $11,000 freezer, and an $8,600 refrigerator.

CBS13 anchor & reporter Sam Shane questioned Eric Lamoureaux, a spokesman for the Department of General Services.

Reporter: A $63,000 amplifier. Is that missing? ‘Cuz you told us that’s missing.
Lamoureaux: It is missing, yeah.
Reporter: Where is that?
Lamoureaux: Corrections doesn’t know where it is.

And the people who run the CDCR also appear to have lost track of some very expensive chairs for which taxpayers paid more than $26,000 each, the cost of a brand new car.

Reporter: Four chairs worth $26,000 each are missing. Where are they?
Lamoureaux: Well if they weren’t missing we would be able to account for that on the form.
Reporter: You don’t know?
Lamoureaux: If they’re missing they’re accounted for as missing and staff will make continuing efforts to try to find it.

Lamoureaux later told us those missing chairs are dentist chairs.

“Well, I’m shocked,” said Lew Uhler, a tax payer advocate with the National Tax Limitation Committee.

We showed the long list of missing items to Mr. Uhler.

“An expensive screwdriver; $127,” notes Uhler, a former member of Governor Ronald Reagan’s administration. “We have more breaches in the dam than we thought.”

Tax payers visiting the capitol were stunned and frustrated when we told them about the apparent missing millions.

“It’s amazing that that amount of money can be lost,” said shocked San Jose resident Mark Giansiracusa.

Thomas Mulder reacted by saying “Wow! That’s not good, not good at all.”

And as we dug deeper we discovered another glaring problem.

“Many wheelchairs reported as lost, they aren’t lost,” said Lamoureaux.

The CDCR listed 130 wheelchairs as missing but when we showed up for this interview that changed.

Reporter: So none of the wheelchairs that they listed as missing are missing?
Lamoureaux: Correct.
Reporter: How does this happen?
Lamoureaux: Well, again, it’s improper accounting.

And it happened a lot. One the of missing items listed by the CDCR was a $415,000 x-ray machine.

Reporter: There’s an x-ray machine worth $415,000. Where is it?
Lamoureaux: It’s not missing.
Reporter: It’s not missing? It says here it’s missing?
Lamoureaux: It does and again it gets back to some of the discoveries we’ve made while working with your station.

They listed a $66,000 telephone system as missing and then told us this.

Reporter: How do you loose a $66,000 telephone system?
Lamoureaux: It wasn’t lost.
Reporter: So that’s not missing?
Lamoureaux: That’s not missing.

Also shown as missing were 11 handheld metal detectors, a $4,800 night seeing device, and six security booths. Over at the DMV they listed a $19,000 surveillance system as missing, then told us this.

Reporter: A surveillance system at DMV – $19 thousand dollars?
Lamoureaux: Yeah, that item is not missing.

And remember those four dentist chairs worth $26,000 each that are listed as missing? Guess what?

After we started asking questions they told us they found them. Governor Brown’s administation blames sloppy bookkeeping. But no one really knows for sure.

Reporter: Is this just sloppy bookkeeping or what’s going on?
Lamoureaux: Absolutely sloppy bookkeeping. And we need to improve not only the bookkeeping but continue to look at the procedures that state agencies are required to follow.

Millions of dollars worth of stuff is listed as lost or stolen – missing. Tax payer advocate Uhler says that must change.

“Was there a break in? Was this done by somebody outside or is this an inside job? And if it’s an inside job and there is no investigative procedure established, that is an outrage.”

Lamoureux says “We’re convinced that we need to tighten the controls.”

As a result of our investigation the Brown administration sent out a memo (.doc) to every state agency demanding better accounting procedures. Until now there has been no audit and no investigation.

It’s an impromptu reminder to keep track of property and missing items that include an $18,000 boat stolen from the Department of Boating and Waterways.

“Well obviously there’s not a lot accountability,” says Susie Sherer, a tax payer from Exeter. “And I think that’s something we defnitely need to start working on.”

Reporter: But do you think, in the private sector, that they would tolerate this? That people would be allowed to work in a company?
Lamoureux: Well, we don’t tolerate it at the state level.
Reporter: But you have. It’s going on; nobody’s been fired or suspended.
Lamoureux: Well it is occurring and unfortunately in an organization this large there is gonna be some level of loss that occurs.

California has no central database for reporting lost, stolen or missing state property, unlike some states like Texas.

Each California agency keeps its own records.

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