Bud’s note: A new hire at the Fresno County District Attorney’s office played a key role in hiding a budget deficit at the Riverside County DA’s office, the Riverside Press-Enterprise reports. Playing budget politics is nothing new, but the stakes went up when the Riverside DA sued the county to fill its frozen jobs. That DA lost his job in November, and others in the office took demotions. Then-Assistant District Attorney Kelly Keenan landed in Fresno.
A financial officer in Riverside County District Attorney Rod Pacheco’s office was ordered to manipulate budget figures and turn a $4 million deficit into a $2 million surplus, according to a sworn declaration filed in court Wednesday.
In November, the county executive office said that the district attorney did not appear to have a cost-cutting plan, and could end the fiscal year more than $9 million over budget.
Pacheco countered by projecting a $2.1 million fiscal year surplus for his office.
Eric Woolery, deputy director of administration in the district attorney’s office, said in his sworn statement filed Wednesday in Riverside County Superior Court that he had documented a $4 million deficit in preparing the prosecutor office’s first-quarter financial report for presentation to the county.
Then-Assistant District Attorney Kelly Keenan told Woolery, “I need it in the black,” according to the declaration.
Woolery’s statement was filed by the county as part of a lawsuit by Pacheco who wanted a judge to unfreeze 12 jobs his office said it had a right to fill. The next hearing for the matter is Dec. 30.
The county countered that Pacheco can’t have jobs filled that have been frozen for budgetary reasons and, with Woolery’s declaration, now challenges his claim that his office is fiscally responsible.
Woolery, a certified public accountant, said he rewrote the first quarter report four times. His final version showed an $18,000 surplus.
After reviewing that report, “Mr. Keenan added additional items and assumptions, causing the projected surplus to increase to over $2.1 million,” Woolery’s declaration said.
SUBMITTED TO BOARD
That version was the one submitted to the county executive office and Board of Supervisors Chairman Marion Ashley, Woolery said.
“I do not believe this version is probable based on the information available at the time,” Woolery said.
“The district attorney is currently $9 million in the hole,” county supervisor John Tavaglione said Wednesday during a specially called meeting of the board. “There’s something here to do with integrity, the integrity of the office and the integrity of the job.”
Keenan started work in the Fresno County District Attorney’s office earlier this month. He did not return a call Wednesday seeking comment.
Pacheco did not return a call to his cell phone seeking comment on Woolery’s statement.
Asked if Woolery’s declaration about the alleged manipulation of budget numbers is going to be referred to law enforcement agencies to see if any laws were broken, county spokesman Ray Smith said, “I can’t address that question.”
Pacheco was defeated for re-election in June by Superior Court Judge Paul Zellerbach, who will be sworn in Jan. 3.
“It’s a sad state of affairs,” Zellerbach said Wednesday. “This appears to be a purposefully intentional act on the district attorney’s part to deceive and mislead not only the Board of Supervisors, but the public.”
After a closed session to discuss the lawsuit Wednesday, County Counsel Pamela J. Walls said nine of 12 job seekers can be hired, but not for the positions they originally sought. Places were found for eight new lawyers hired for starting prosecutor posts.
“Today, the District Attorney’s office submitted a new and corrected request that properly addresses the personnel changes for eight positions using available positions that are authorized and funded in the budget,” Walls wrote in a statement.
The county human resources department will also process a voluntary demotion request to place Chief Deputy District Attorney Rick Cookson into an undisclosed position. He will be under probationary review for that job.
The remaining three jobs out of the 12 also appear to be resolved.
Two who were prospective starting deputy district attorneys have found work elsewhere.
Chief Investigator Vern Horst has withdrawn his application to be voluntarily demoted to the frozen assistant chief investigator’s position he had sought.
Pacheco said in a statement that the hires announced Wednesday showed the county recognized “they had no authority to deny these employees the jobs that they earned.” A statement from his office said the county had “capitulated.”
But Smith said what Pacheco’s office had “repeatedly sought to do was open frozen positions. And in this last application, they sought positions that were open.”
Chief Assistant District Attorney Bill Mitchell declined to comment directly on the Woolery document, saying he had not seen it.
But he said if the county managed to find places for nine of the 12 job applicants, “They are now acknowledging those assertions (of budget restrictions) were contrived. So this has nothing to with budget reports, deficits, or surpluses.”
Mitchell said the office has restrained hiring, noting there are about 40 open positions that it could fill.
“There now appears to be no reason for the lawsuit, and the district attorney should dismiss it,” said county spokesman Smith. A statement from Pacheco’s office said it may be dismissed.
Zellerbach has said if the lawsuit still stands when he is sworn in on Jan. 3, he will move to dismiss it.