After my parents divorced, my dad would still come by every so often and organize a Wade family breakfast on a Saturday. With seven Wades around that table, these would be grand affairs with tons of grub (that I usually cooked).
The breakfasts would begin with my dad taking me, Scott or Tony to Safeway or Lucky to acquire the mass quantities of grub. The beauty was if you helped him shop, you could slip all kinds of things into the cart and he’d be none the wiser.
At the checkout, he’d suddenly see paperback books, magazines or toys riding the conveyor belt along with the eggs.
I’m telling this story because the way we treated our dad’s wallet is similar to the way some California state employees have been treating your tax dollars. In a new state auditor’s report on whistle-blowing investigations covering the past two years, California workers misused $613,000.
In one case, an employee in both the Franchise Tax Board and the Secretary of State’s office were running a kickback scam with a third person and pocketed more than $200,000.
The state athletic commission inappropriately overpaid nearly $118,700 to 18 employees.
The California Correctional Health Care Services improperly paid 23 employees $55,000.
In another incident, a Fish and Game employee improperly bought more than $50,000 in good and services. He also spent another $5,000 without being able to show the purchases were for any state purpose.
A former employee with the Employment Development Department filed two bogus claims for friends that allowed them to receive unemployment from a company where they never worked.
It’s frustrating. It’s maddening. Common sense tells you that this is merely the tip of an enormous iceberg. These are cases where someone has complained and pointed watchdogs in the right direction and a case was opened. How many other state employees are surreptitiously fleecing the taxpayers? How many employees are padding their travel expenses and obtaining reimbursements they don’t deserve?
It’s easy when it’s someone else’s money.
One California Department of Education employee spent work hours to post 4,900 comments to a website. How many employees do you think he/she represents? How many Facebook statuses are updated or tweets are going out on the job? It may seem innocuous, but there’s a cost to taxpayers in time and inefficiency.
This is not to cast aspersions on all state workers, of which I am confident the majority are hardworking, honest people. After all, it was other state workers who blew the whistle on their dishonest co-workers.
Californians approved a 0.25 percent sales tax increase last month that goes into effect next year. It shows voters are willing to pay more if coupled with spending cuts to keep our fiscal house in order. But nobody wants to pay more if their money is being mishandled.
There will always be those employees who act like kids spending their daddy’s money. We’ve got to root those people out, prosecute them for fraud and make them pay restitution. Ripping off the state during these harsh economic times is doubly disgusting.
Let’s hope Gov. Jerry Brown and state auditors keep digging. You don’t treat the people’s money like your personal ATM. Peace.
Kelvin Wade is a writer who lives in Fairfield. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.