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TMCNet:  DA probe clears SamTrans of accounting crimes [San Mateo County Times, Calif. :: ]

[August 14, 2014]

DA probe clears SamTrans of accounting crimes [San Mateo County Times, Calif. :: ]

(San Mateo County Times (CA) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Aug. 13--REDWOOD CITY -- The San Mateo County District Attorney's Office said Tuesday that an accounting probe of the county's transit agency found instances of shoddy bookkeeping but no evidence of embezzlement or other criminal activity.


The district attorney launched the investigation last year in response to whistle-blower complaints from two former employees of the San Mateo County Transit District, which runs both Caltrain, the San Francisco-to-San Jose commuter rail line, and SamTrans, the county's bus service.

"There was no criminal behavior detected," said Assistant District Attorney Al Serrato, adding it is now up to the district's board of directors to "continue taking steps to bring their accounting practices into line with generally accepted accounting principles." The inquiry relied on an audit by MGO Certified Public Accountants, which interviewed whistle-blowers David Ramires and Ling La and inspected the district's records. Ramires claimed he was told to inflate expenses to create secret pools of money for managers to use without board oversight. La said she noticed suspiciously high freight charges and was ordered to backdate an invoice.

MGO found the agency did a poor job tracking certain expenses, creating confusion as to whether they had been paid off and from which account. The audit determined that, from 2009 to 2013, the district accumulated nearly $2.5 million in expenses without proper documentation. But the firm did not find any evidence of fraud, embezzlement or theft.

The transit district has long denied accusations of intentional wrongdoing but acknowledged the need to improve its accounting. The agency is boosting staffing and upgrading its technology and employee supervision, among other steps, according to spokeswoman Jayme Ackemann, who said the district was pleased with the district attorney's findings.

"The claims were originated by two former district employees who alleged that accounting irregularities were undertaken in an effort to use funding toward unauthorized projects or expenses or to conceal expenses from the district's board of directors," the district said in a statement. "No evidence of these claims could be found to support those allegations." La filed a federal lawsuit against the district in April, claiming she was fired in retaliation for raising questions about the agency's accounting practices. Her attorney, Dow Patten, said the district attorney's findings validate many of La's claims, despite the lack of criminal charges.

"It basically substantiates everything our client was saying." Patten said.

Contact Aaron Kinney at 650-348-4357. Follow him at Twitter.com/kinneytimes.

___ (c)2014 the San Mateo County Times (San Mateo, Calif.) Visit the San Mateo County Times (San Mateo, Calif.) at www.mercurynews.com/san-mateo-county Distributed by MCT Information Services

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