Transparent California helps uncover massive fraud in LA school district

On Monday, the Los Angeles County Office of Education and the Fiscal Crisis and
Management Assistance Team (FCMAT) released their “Extraordinary Audit of
Montebello Unified School District.”

In the introduction, the audit cites the following as an impetus for their investigation:

Prior to the teacher’s request, there were many rumors alleging that some K-12 teachers and classified employees were given the opportunity to earn large amounts of extra money for little or no work, paid from adult education funds.

Coworkers accessed the Transparent California website (www.transparentcalifornia.com), which revealed that some of the district’s instructors earned exceptionally high salaries. This led to questions about how these instructors were earning such high compensation. (emphasis mine)

District administrators were told that instructors, including classified employees, had adult education class rosters with few or no students in attendance, and this raised serious questions that prompted an internal investigation and led to discussions with the county office of education.

The audit then found many instances where “hourly pay occurred during times when classes were not in session,” and that in the majority of cases studied “the district’s payroll records did not have sufficient supporting documents to conclude that compensation paid from adult education funds was for legitimate payroll expenditures…”

In its conclusion, the audit determined that:

there is sufficient evidence to demonstrate that fraud, mismanagement and misappropriation of the district’s funds and assets may have occurred.

The audit could only state that fraud “may” have occurred, citing a requirement that only a court could definitely make such a determination.

Consequently, the audit instructed the county superintendent to immediately inform “the local district attorney that fraud or misappropriation of district funds and/or assets may have occurred,” for further action.

Nonetheless, the audit findings are such that it’s almost impossible to imagine any explanation other than fraud.

The teachers’ use of Transparent California to help uncover this fraud is just one more example of the enormous benefits such transparency provides — although certainly not one we could have imagined when we first created the site!

You can read the full audit by clicking here.

How one LA firefighter turned a $90,000 salary into $1.6 million over the past four years

Overtime pay that was at least triple his regular salary in each of the past four years allowed Los Angeles firefighter Donn Thompson to collect a combined $1.67 million in total earnings from 2014-2017 — according to an analysis of newly released pay data from TransparentCalifornia.com.

Such outsized overtime pay allowed Thompson to clear over $400,000 in cash earnings for each of the past four years — despite drawing a regular salary that ranged between $86,000 and $92,000.

Transparent California Executive Director Robert Fellner said Thompson’s ability to collect such enormous amounts of overtime pay is without peer among the more than 2.5 million government workers surveyed statewide.

“Collecting overtime pay that is triple your regular salary in just a single year is basically a one-in-a-million feat. Thompson’s ability to do so over four consecutive years is without peer and, quite frankly, boggles the mind.”

Thompson has been among the city’s top overtime earners for decades, as reflected by a 1996 Los Angeles Times report that cited him as an example of LAFD’s “paycheck generosity.”

More recently, Thompson was among the trio of Los Angeles firefighters featured in the Transparent California report LA firefighter trio earns nearly $1 million in OT pay (again) — which found that Thompson and his 2 colleagues received the largest overtime payments of the nearly 2.5 million government workers surveyed statewide, in both 2015 and 2016.

The just-released 2017 pay data reveals that those same three firefighters are once again atop the city’s list for highest overtime pay, but with Thompson coming out on top this time:

Los Angeles City’s top 3 overtime earners (2017)

  1. Firefighter III Donn Thompson, who received $306,405 in OT for total earnings of $437,341.
  2. Fire Captain II Charles Ferrari, who received $284,882 in OT for total earnings of: $443,437.
  3. Fire Captain I James Vlach, who received $280,182 in OT for total earnings of $431,518.

While department spokesmen have responded to previous years’ reports by indicating that the dramatic rise in overtime was an anomaly that would likely taper off in future years, the data show just the opposite.

Last year, 512 Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD) employees received over $100,000 apiece in overtime pay, which represents a tenfold increase from the 51 who earned that much in 2012.

26 LAFD employees received over $200,000 apiece in overtime pay, with average total earnings of $383,401.

Total department wide spending on overtime pay has also increased dramatically, with the $198 million spent on overtime last year representing a 74 percent increase from the $114 million spent in 2012.

The data also indicate that the total number of firefighters has remained relatively flat over the past 5 years, with the 2,066 firefighters listed on the 2017 payroll report representing a 3 percent increase from 2012.

As discussed in more detail in last year’s report, overtime pay at LAFD is significantly above the levels found at many of its peer departments nationwide.

Los Angeles County

A similar narrative played out at the county, where an agency-high $322,677 overtime payout boosted Los Angeles County Fire Captain Sergio Burciaga’s total compensation to $518,998.

The next 4 county employees who received the largest overtime pay were:

  1. Battalion Chief Thomas Ray: $283,529 in OT and $602,627 in total pay and benefits.
  2. Fire Captain Timothy Bauer: $275,560 in OT and $489,713 in total pay and benefits.
  3. Battalion Chief Dennis Breshears: $272,511 in OT and $580,216 in total pay and benefits.
  4. Fire Captain Richard Mullen: $263,501 in OT and $477,816 in total pay and benefits.

Like the city department, the county fire department also saw a tenfold increase in the number of $100,000-plus overtime payouts, which rose from 60 in 2012 to 645 last year.

Total overtime spending at the county fire department rose 52 percent over that same time period, reaching an all-time high of $212 million last year.

The dramatic rise in overtime spending occurred despite an increase in the number of county firefighters, according to the data. In 2017, the county spent $319 million on base salaries for its 2,992 firefighters — a 14 percent increase from the $280 million spent for the 2,866 county firefighters listed on the 2012 payroll report.

Six-figure leave time payouts

County employees can also boost their regular earning by cashing in unused leave. Last year, 209 employees received over $100,000 each in unused leave payouts, with twelve employees receiving payouts in excess of $250,000. The top 3 leave time payouts went to:

  1. Former Chief Public Defender Ronald Brown, who received a $358,572 leave time payout.
  2. Former Sheriff Captain Douglas Fetteroll, who received a $315,474 leave time payout.
  3. Former Sheriff Lieutenant David Smith, who received a $288,950 leave time payout.

Total county employee compensation hit an all-time high of nearly $12 billion — up nearly 31 percent from 2012.

To explore the entire 2017 Los Angeles County payroll report in a searchable and downloadable format, please click here.

Transparent California will be continually updating the site with new, 2017 data from the remaining cities and counties in the coming weeks. Be sure to follow our blog and Twitter accounts, or sign up for our mailing list, in order to receive the latest updates.

For more information, please contact Robert Fellner at 559-462-0122 or Robert@TransparentCalifornia.com.

Transparent California is California’s largest and most comprehensive database of public sector compensation and is a project of the Nevada Policy Research Institute, a nonpartisan, free-market think tank. The website is used by millions of Californians each year, including elected officials and lawmakers, government employees and their unions, government agencies themselves, university researchers, the media, and concerned citizens alike. Learn more at TransparentCalifornia.com.

Former LA Assistant Fire Chief cleared nearly $1.4 million in pension pay last year, new data show

Today, TransparentCalifornia.com released previously unseen 2017 pension data for the Los Angeles Fire and Police Employees’ Pension plan.

This year’s top earner was former Assistant Fire Chief Donald Frazeur, who received a one-time DROP payout of $1,171,994 on top of his regular $212,730 annual pension for total earnings of $1,384,724.

The deferred retirement option plan (DROP) allows an employee to draw a salary and pension simultaneously for up to 5 years, with each year’s pension being deposited into an interest-bearing account. Upon actual retirement, the accumulated balance can be withdrawn either as a lump-sum payment or rolled over into an annuity.

The next 4 highest earners were:

  1. Former Deputy Police Chief Michael Downing: $995,845.
  2. Former Deputy Fire Chief Joseph Castro: $931,636.
  3. Former Deputy Fire Chief John Vidovich: $893,906.
  4. Former Fire Battalion Chief Jack Wise: $893,489.

The average full-career retiree received $101,652 in pension pay last year, according to the data. A full-career retiree is defined as those who retired with at least 30 years of service. To explore the complete dataset in a searchable and downloadable format, please click here.

In addition to the police and fire fund, Los Angeles also provides its own pension plan for regular employees. For a press release summarizing the findings from that fund’s 2017 data, please click here: Dubious overtime pay helped boost former LA Port Pilot’s pension to nearly $375,000 a year.

CalPERS

All other cities in Los Angeles County belong to the statewide California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS).

The newly released 2017 CalPERS data reveals an average pension of $80,175 for those who retired from a city in Los Angeles County. Of those who just began receiving a pension within the past year, the three largest Los Angeles-area CalPERS pensions went to:

  1. Former Gardena City Manager Mitchell Landsell, who is receiving a $258,992 annualized pension after nearly 45 years of service.
  2. Former Pasadena City Manager Darryl Qualls, who is receiving a $215,173 annualized pension after 36 years of service.
  3. Former Vernon City Manager Michael Wilson, who is receiving a $215,000 annualized pension after 29 years of service.

For an extended version of the above list, please contact Transparent California Executive Director Robert Fellner at Robert@TransparentCalifornia.com.

The 10 cities in Los Angeles County with the largest number of $100,000-plus CalPERS pensions are displayed below. The far right column displays the percentage that those $100K-plus cohort represent as a share of total outlays.

City

# of $100K-plus CalPERS Pensions (2017) $100K-plus pensions as % of total outlays

Long Beach

390 21%

Torrance

237 44%

Santa Monica

219 42%

Glendale

212 31%

Burbank

181 35%
Pasadena 171

30%

Beverly Hills 111

41%

Redondo Beach 97

44%

Inglewood 91

29%

Culver City 86

37%

To see the individual amount paid to the retirees of each city, please click on the city’s name in the table above.

Fellner believes the best way to understand the impact of the growing ‘$100K club’ is to look at their pensions as a percentage of total outlays, rather than merely as a percentage of total membership.

“Comparing the raw number of those collecting $100K-plus pensions to total membership is an inherently misleading number, which merely reflects the fact that the vast majority of CalPERS retirees have less than 20 years of service credit at retirement.

“The data reveals that those receiving $100,000-plus pensions represent nearly half of total outlays for several Los Angeles-area cities, an amount which is rising rapidly.”

Transparent California will be continually updating the site with new, 2017 data from the remaining pension funds in the coming weeks. Be sure to follow our blog and Twitter accounts, or sign up for our mailing list, in order to receive the latest updates.

For more information, please contact Robert Fellner at 559-462-0122 or Robert@TransparentCalifornia.com.

Transparent California is California’s largest and most comprehensive database of public sector compensation and is a project of the Nevada Policy Research Institute, a nonpartisan, free-market think tank. The website is used by millions of Californians each year, including elected officials and lawmakers, government employees and their unions, government agencies themselves, university researchers, the media, and concerned citizens alike. Learn more at TransparentCalifornia.com.

Dubious overtime pay helped boost former LA Port Pilot’s pension to nearly $375,000 a year

Former Los Angeles Chief Port Pilot Michael Rubino’s $373,156 annualized pension has shattered the record for the highest pension received by any member of the Los Angeles City Employees’ Retirement System (LACERS), according to just-released 2017 pension data posted on TransparentCalifornia.com.

Rubino’s pension is a staggering 54 percent larger than LACERS 2nd highest pension of $241,963, which goes to Margaret Whelan, the former general manager of the city’s personnel department who retired in 2014 after a 44-year career.

Whelan’s lengthy career meant she would receive a pension worth 96 percent of her final salary upon retirement. Rubino’s 30 years of service at retirement, by contrast, meant he was only eligible to receive a pension worth 66 percent of his final salary — which makes his outsized pension even more remarkable.

Rubino

Understanding Rubino’s atypically large pension then requires understanding his final salary — which is the amount LACERS uses to calculate an employee’s future pension.

While Rubino’s base salary at the time of his retirement was around $300,000, his “final salary” was nearly $570,000.

There are two main factors that allowed Rubino to boost his final salary so far above his regular pay.

Dubious overtime pay

In addition to sizable bonuses port pilots receive based on the amount of cargo moved, their final salary can also be inflated through a special type of overtime pay known as “callback pay,” which, unlike regular overtime pay, counts towards an employee’s final salary and thus future pension.

In 2016, the Los Angeles Times exposed how callback pay at the port was being wildly abused, citing a practice whereby “pilots on callback collect overtime for roughly twice as many hours as they actually work, resulting in hundreds of thousands of dollars paid to them each year for time they weren’t on the job.”

And while their contract calls for chief port pilots like Michael Rubino to only get called back when “no other pilots are available,” Rubino was called back a staggering 137 times in just the 2016 fiscal year alone — which boosted his pay, and thus final salary, by nearly $90,000, according to the Los Angeles Times report.

Final Salary = highest one-year salary

Rubino also benefited greatly from LACERS practice of using an employee’s single highest year of earnings as their final salary, rather than the 35 years used by Social Security or the 3-5 years used in most other public pension plans.

Thanks in part due to the boost from callback pay mentioned above, the $580,000 in wages Rubino received in 2016 — his final full year before retirement — was over $100,000 greater than any of the preceding years, and was $210,000 more than his 2012 earnings, according to a review of historical pay data on TransparentCalifornia.com.

Thus, LACERS policy of using the single highest year of earnings for an employee’s “final salary” was particularly beneficial to Rubino, who saw a roughly $75,000 increase to his annual pension as compared to what he would have received if LACERS used the average of an employee’s five highest years of earnings to calculate final salary.

Rubino is a particularly stark example of how California’s public pensions are functionally a wealth maximization program, according to Transparent California Executive Director Robert Fellner.

“For a state dedicated to representing so-called ‘progressive’ values, California’s public pensions are anything but. The system provides enormous benefits to those already earning some of the highest salaries in the state, while providing lower wage workers — and thus those genuinely in need of retirement security — with much less.”

The average LACERS recipient had 28 years of service credit at retirement and received a benefit of $52,847 — which represents a 34 percent increase since 2012.

To view the entire 2017 LACERS dataset in a searchable and downloadable format, please visit TransparentCalifornia.com.

Transparent California will be continually updating the site with new, 2017 data from the remaining pension funds in the coming weeks.

Be sure to follow our blog and Twitter accounts, or sign up for our mailing list, in order to receive the latest updates.

For more information, please contact Robert Fellner at 559-462-0122 or Robert@TransparentCalifornia.com.

Transparent California is California’s largest and most comprehensive database of public sector compensation and is a project of the Nevada Policy Research Institute, a nonpartisan, free-market think tank. The website is used by millions of Californians each year, including elected officials and lawmakers, government employees and their unions, government agencies themselves, university researchers, the media, and concerned citizens alike. Learn more at TransparentCalifornia.com.

New CalSTRS data: LA’s ‘$100K club’ up 82% over past five years

The number of retired Los Angeles educators collecting pensions of $100,000 or more from the California State Teachers Retirement System (CalSTRS) has increased dramatically since 2012, according to just-released pension payout data from TransparentCalifornia.com.

Last year, 3,850 CalSTRS members who retired from agencies in Los Angeles County collected pensions of $100,000 or more — an 82 percent increase from 2012.

The top 3 Los Angeles CalSTRS pensions went to:

  1. Virginia Shattuck, Norwalk-La Mirada Unified: $320,592.
  2. Donna Perez, Alhambra Unified: $300,110.
  3. James Kossler, Pasadena Area Community College: $299,432.

Statewide, 13,527 CalSTRS retirees collected pensions of at least $100,000 last year, which marks an 87 percent increase from 2012, according to the data.

The below chart displays the 10 agencies in Los Angeles County with the most $100,000 or greater CalSTRS pensions, as well as the percentage increase that has occurred since 2012:

School District

# of $100K+ CalSTRS Pensions

% Increase from 2012

Los Angeles Unified School District

1370

63%

Los Angeles Community College District

293

97%

Long Beach Unified School District

158

105%

Los Angeles County Superintendent

130

69%

Montebello Unified School District

99

154%

Alhambra Unified School District

76

138%

Pomona Unified School District

63

70%

Arcadia Unified School District

60

100%

Mt. San Antonio Community College District

60

62%

Santa Monica Community College District

59

97%

To view the entire CalSTRS dataset in a searchable and downloadable format, please click here.

Transparent California will be continually updating the site with new, 2017 data from the remaining pension funds in the coming weeks. Be sure to follow our blog and Twitter accounts, or sign up for our mailing list, in order to receive the latest updates.

For more information, please contact Robert Fellner at 559-462-0122 or Robert@TransparentCalifornia.com.

Transparent California is California’s largest and most comprehensive database of public sector compensation and is a project of the Nevada Policy Research Institute, a nonpartisan, free-market think tank. The website is used by millions of Californians each year, including elected officials and lawmakers, government employees and their unions, government agencies themselves, university researchers, the media, and concerned citizens alike. Learn more at TransparentCalifornia.com.

New 2017 pension data released: CalPERS payouts approach $21 billion, up 43% over past 5 years

Today, TransparentCalifornia.com — California’s largest public pay database — released pension payout data for the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) for the fiscal year ending July 31, 2017. The data show total pension payouts of $20.63 billion — a 43 percent increase from the amount reported in 2012.

In just the past fiscal year alone, CalPERS began paying out pensions to 25,472 new retirees, at a total cost of more than $1 billion annually. The top 5 largest pensions among those who began drawing a CalPERS pension in the past fiscal year went to:

  1. Former Gardena City Manager Mitchell Lansdell: $258,992.
  2. Former San Jose State University President Mohammad Qayoumi: $225,283.
  3. Former Clovis City Manager Robert Woolley: $221,604.
  4. Former Placer County Sheriff Edward Bonner: $216,388.
  5. Former Santa Clara County Undersheriff John Hirokawa: $215,810.

When broken down by last employer, the dataset reveals 40 agencies or state departments with at least 100 CalPERS recipients drawing pensions of $100,000 or more. The top 10 agencies or state departments with the greatest number of $100,000 or more pension recipients are shown below:

Last Employer

# of $100K+ CalPERS Pensions

Department Of California Highway Patrol

1217

County Of Santa Clara

920

Department Of Corrections

613

City Of Oakland

549

Department Of Forestry And Fire Protection

521

County Of Riverside

499

City Of Long Beach

374

City Of Santa Ana

285

City Of Anaheim

283

Department Of Justice

279

To view the entire CalPERS dataset in a searchable and downloadable format, please click here.

CalSTRS data not forthcoming

Update: The CalSTRS data was provided shortly after this piece was published.

2017 data for the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS) has yet to be provided to Transparent California in a useable format, despite the data already having been compiled and in CalSTRS possession for at least the past 25 days.

CalSTRS has twice mailed badly damaged, unusable CDs which purportedly contain the requested information. The system has refused to deliver the information via alternative means.

“CalSTRS is plainly required to make this information available in an electronic format under the law,” according to Transparent California Executive Director Robert Fellner. “Sending copies of broken, unusable CDs is not in compliance with the mandates of California’s Public Records Law. Even more bizarre is CalSTRS refusal to deliver the requested information in any one of the less-costly alternative methods suggested by Transparent California. We hope CalSTRS finds a way to comply with their obligations under the state’s public records law and provide the requested information in a useable format, just as more than 2,500 other California governments have been able to do.”

Los Angeles County

New 2017 calendar year data for the Los Angeles County Employees’ Retirement Association (LACERA) is now available on TransparentCalifornia.com.

In just the past two years, LACERA began paying out pensions of $100,000 or more to 839 new retirees — or more than 15 percent of the total new pension recipients over that same time period.

The three largest payments among those recent members went to:

  1. Former Los Angeles County Assistant Sheriff Richard Barrantes: $309,142.
  2. Former Chief Physician Meenal Patel: $276,005. 
  3. Former Sheriff’s Department Chief David Fender: $271,957.

The overall top pension remains former Harbor-UCLA Medical Center Chief Physician Charles Mehringer, who earned $411,443 last year.

The data also reveal a significant difference in the average full-career pension by member type, as shown in the chart below:

Average 2017 full-career LACERA pension, by member type

Non-safety

Sheriff

Fire

$68,318

$107,893

$122,845

To view the entire LACERA dataset, please click here.

San Diego City

The just-released 2017 pension payout data for the San Diego City Employees’ Retirement System (SDCERS) reveals an average pension of $85,670 for full-career retirees.

The three largest payments went to:

  1. Former Deputy City Attorney Diane Silva-Martinez: $893,731.
  2. Former Fire Captain Bradley Cronk: $871,599.
  3. Former Assistant Police Chief Sarah Creighton: $854,225.

To view the entire SDCERS dataset, please click here.

Transparent California will be continually updating the site with the new, 2017 data from the remaining pension funds in the coming weeks. Be sure to follow our blog and Twitter accounts, or sign up for our mailing list, in order to receive the latest updates.

For more information, please contact Robert Fellner at 559-462-0122 or Robert@TransparentCalifornia.com.

Transparent California is California’s largest and most comprehensive database of public sector compensation and is a project of the Nevada Policy Research Institute, a nonpartisan, free-market think tank. The website is used by millions of Californians each year, including elected officials and lawmakers, government employees and their unions, government agencies themselves, university researchers, the media, and concerned citizens alike. Learn more at TransparentCalifornia.com.

Public records lawsuit filed against Los Angeles government

Today, the Nevada Policy Research Institute (NPRI) filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles County Superior Court against the Los Angeles County West Vector Control District for refusing to comply with the California Public Records Act (CPRA).

The lawsuit stems from NPRI’s work on its TransparentCalifornia.com website — which publishes pay data for approximately 2.5 million California public employees from nearly 2,500 unique government agencies.

The District describes itself as “the second largest vector control district in the state of California by population served.” Vector control districts are also known as mosquito abatement districts which, as their name implies, are focused on preventing and controlling the spread of mosquitos and the diseases they carry. Residents fund these public agencies through an annual fee included on their property tax bill.

The District is one of 45 mosquito abatement districts statewide, according to data provided to Transparent California by the California State Controller’s Office.

Of the 15 mosquito abatement districts with the largest payroll statewide, the Los Angeles County West Vector Control District is the only one that has refused to comply with Transparent California’s request for basic salary data:

Transparent California first submitted a request for District employee names and wages in June 2014. After the District ignored the initial request — and every subsequent request — Transparent California submitted a renewed request via fax, e-mail and certified mail to the District on September 19, 2017.  The request explicitly stated that Transparent California would be forced to resort to legal action if the District did not respond within ten days, as required by state law.

Despite returning the certified mail receipt indicating the request was successfully received on September 21, 2017, the District has so far failed to provide a response of any kind.

Transparent California research director Robert Fellner issued the following statement:

“The California Public Records Act requires that public records be disclosed in a prompt fashion, but this mandate is useless if governments can choose to ignore it with impunity. As a public agency funded by tax dollars, the Los Angeles County West Vector Control District has an obligation to be transparent and accountable to the public it was created to serve.”

The District’s willingness to so blatantly violate state law is an example of why the CPRA needs harsher penalties, Fellner added.

“In order for the governmental transparency promised to Californians to be fully realized, the Legislature must add real penalties for government actors who knowingly and willfully violate the state’s public records law.”

The lawsuit asks the court to compel the Los Angeles County West Vector Control District to comply with the CPRA and provide a copy of records documenting district employees’ name and salary information so that it may be published online at TransparentCalifornia.com.

TransparentCalifornia.com is used by millions of Californians each year and has received praise from elected officials, government employees, the media and concerned citizens alike for its ability to successfully improve transparency in government.

For more information, please contact Robert Fellner at 559-462-0122 or Robert@TransparentCalifornia.com.

Transparent California is California’s largest and most comprehensive database of public sector compensation and is a project of the Nevada Policy Research Institute, a nonpartisan, free-market think tank. Learn more at TransparentCalifornia.com.

###