SACRAMENTO (CBS13/AP) — A troubled state agency charged with collecting more than $60 billion of our tax dollars, is under investigation.
Civil servants and executives from the Board of Equalization have spoken with investigators, board spokesman Paul Cambra confirmed. Board officials declined to say who has spoken to investigators or what was discussed.
CBS13 has confronted one of the board members who says he’s fully cooperating with the investigation.
He’s an elected member of the Board of Equalization, the agency charged with managing $60 billion of our taxpayer dollars each year. But Democrat Jerome Horton isn’t ready to divulge details about the DOJ investigation into his agency.
We asked him, “Why is the department investigating you?” Horton said, “The Governor made the request that the Dept. of Justice look into allegations of, I forget what the term was.”
We asked if Horton was being careful with his words? Horton said,”No, no, not really, I just don’t remember exactly what the Governor’s letter said.”
We got ahold of a letter Gov. Brown sent to elected members of the Board of Equalization back in April. In it, the governor states, “I’m taking the immediate action…Requesting the dept of Justice to coordinate investigations of board employee complaints and potential misuse of state resources.”
Brown in April asked Attorney General Xavier Becerra to investigate the agency after an evaluation by the Department of Finance found millions of dollars misallocated without explanation. The evaluation alleged that the board had seen a rise in spending on activities unrelated to its role administering state taxes, and that public employees were inappropriately assigned to outreach and political duties.
“The Board exists to serve the public, and the (Finance Department) report highlights the extent to which it has fallen short,” Brown wrote.
The Department of Finance’s evaluation alleges that Horton reassigned public employees to work for him, opened a call center in his district without the consent of other board members and held outreach events unrelated to the board’s mission. The review also found that 113 employees of the board helped with parking and registration at an event in Escondido that was sponsored by board member Diane Harkey.
Horton, is one of five members overseeing billions in taxpayer money. But recently questions have been raised about donations, known as “behested payments,” made to his wife’s nonprofits.
What kind of allegations are we talking about?
“To my knowledge they don’t involve me. That’s only hearsay from other folks,” said Horton.
Just last week, Governor Brown signed off on new legislation that’ll soon take away the ability of the board’s members… to handle the collection of day-to-day sales-tax and tax appeals. This, after state audits revealed more than $330 million in sales tax revenue had been allocated to the wrong government accounts. State finance officials say the money’s been put back in place.
But some lawmakers are still calling for a complete overhaul of the troubled department. So we tried again.
“They were more in line with personnel matters, at least that’s my understanding,” said Horton.
We asked whether its personnel or money matters.
Horton said, “There were some concerns, I can’t recall.”
He maintains he doesn’t remember what investigators want from his department or him, but the governor plans to have a report out by end of month.
And the Department of Justice responded to our request for comment saying, “to protect its integrity, we can’t comment on an ongoing investigation.”