Criminal Intent in Calif. Park Fund Coverup?
Six months after the public learned that California state parks officials had concealed $20 million even as they were crying poor and closing parks, one crucial issue remains foggy as ever:
Were any crimes committed, and if so, will anyone be held to answer?
The Sacramento Bee reported that the state attorney general's investigation into the secret funds, released Jan. 4, made it clear that $20.5 million was kept hidden in the State Parks and Recreation Fund (SPRF). The fund is the primary collection point for all visitor fees paid at the 278 parks in the California Department of Parks and Recreation system. Another $33 million, held in the Off Highway Vehicle Fund, was not intentionally hidden, according to the report, but was obscured nonetheless by complexities in managing that fund.
The investigation also revealed that, although the amount of the hidden funds varied over time and originally piled up because of budgeting errors, numerous high-ranking officials at parks headquarters in Sacramento made a decision to keep the money concealed from state finance officials for as long as 13 years.
"It is clear," the investigation states, "that by no later than 2003, and perhaps as early as 1999, the failure to accurately report all SPRF monies … became conscious and deliberate."
This finding raises the specter of criminal conduct, according to several legal experts interviewed by The Bee. And many state parks advocates – who opened their own wallets and volunteered time to keep parks open – are waiting for answers to this question.
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