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Audits Show State Parks Employees Received Secret Vacation Payouts

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SACRAMENTO (CBS13) – Two separate audits have revealed that state parks employees were paid out more than $271,000 in unauthorized vacation buybacks last year at the same time the agency was preparing to close 70 parks.

The man at the helm of the back-door deal, according to published reports, is former high-ranking deputy director Manuel Lopez. He’s the same parks official at the center of a harassment lawsuit for raunchy sex talk who has resigned.

“Our employees came to us, blew the whistle, came to management and said something’s going on,” parks spokesman Roy Stearns said on Monday.

Audits done internally and by the attorney general’s office revealed a department-wide cover-up to buy back vacation time, primarily between May and July 2011.

In all, Lopez and 55 other employees reportedly took part and one payout was $30,000. Employees also knew it should be kept quiet so buy-backs were entered as overtime. Lopez made $137,194 last year, including $28,647 in overtime pay, according to a state salary database published by The Sacramento Bee.

The audit shows employees were so intent on not leaving a paper trail they wrote some of those payouts on Post-It notes.

And according to the audits, this wasn’t the first time the parks department made unauthorized payouts to employees.

One person told investigators “in the past the department had implemented several leave buyback plans without consulting (the personnel department).”

The audit shows unauthorized buybacks may have happened as many as three times in recent years, but parks officials and the Department of Justice concluded while employees violated state policy, no laws were broken because they were entitled to those cash payouts upon their retirement or leaving state employment.

“Even if it’s not illegal, which I’m not convinced of, heads should roll,” said Jon Coupal with the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. “Certain people should be terminated.”

State parks officials declined to discuss the situation, calling it a personnel matter.

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