A former Pasadena city employee and two of his friends pleaded not guilty Wednesday to charges stemming from an alleged embezzlement scheme in which more than $6 million in city money was taken over a decade.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mark Hanasano ordered Danny Wooten, a former management analyst in Pasadena’s Public Works Department, to remain jailed in lieu of $1.75 million bail.
Wooten, 51, is charged with 20 felony counts each of embezzlement by a public or private officer and public officer crime, along with 19 felony counts of conflict of interest.
Tyrone Collins, 55, who owned Collins Electric, is charged with 10 felony counts each of embezzlement by a public or private officer and public officer crime. Prosecutors allege that Wooten directed more than $2 millions to Collins, who was ordered to remain jailed in lieu of $900,000 bail.
Melody Jenkins, 46, who was a temporary city employee, is charged with one felony count each of embezzlement by a public or private officer, public officer crime and grand theft of personal property. Prosecutors allege that Wooten gave more than $40,000 in city funds to Jenkins, whose bail was set at $50,000.
The three were arrested Tuesday and are due back in court next month.
Wooten worked for the city’s Public Works Department, which was in charge of moving the city’s utility lines underground.
Wooten is suspected of creating false invoices for the underground utility program between 2004 and March 2014.
Along with the money that was allegedly directed to Collins and Jenkins, Wooten is also suspected of setting up bank accounts in his name and directing city money to two religious organizations with which he was affiliated.
The alleged theft was discovered earlier this year after the city ordered an audit. According to the city, the audit found that Wooten — a 12- year city employee — submitted as many as 296 phony invoices to the city.
Wooten was fired by the city July 25 for “personnel matters unrelated to the investigation,” according to the city.
Pasadena officials said they do not believe any other city employees were involved in criminal activity related to the alleged embezzlement, but four workers have been placed on paid administrative leave pending the completion of a personnel investigation.
“I am immensely disappointed that one of our former city employees allegedly exploited his position and leveraged our internal processes for personal gain by stealing taxpayer money and betraying the public’s trust,” Pasadena City Manager Michael J. Beck said Tuesday. “We will use this experience to reinforce our commitment to good governance through our policies and procedures.”
The city audit made 43 recommendations for tightening city controls, and nearly all of them are expected to be implemented in the next few months, Beck said. The city has created an internal audit manager position and is in the process of finding a suitable candidate for the post.
Wooten faces up to 28 years in state prison if convicted, while Collins would face up to 18 years behind bars and Jenkins up to four years in prison, according to the District Attorney’s Office.
— City News Service
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