Photo by John Schreiber.
Photo by John Schreiber.

The city of Pasadena has received $5 million from its insurance carrier to settle a claim involving the alleged embezzlement of public funds by a former city employee who’s charged along with two others in a criminal case.

The payment represents the maximum amount of money that can be paid in connection with the insurance claim filed by the city, Pasadena city officials said.

“We are pleased that our insurance carrier has paid the maximum amount on the claim, but in no way does this minimize the importance of our internal efforts to strengthen our financial administration and internal controls,” City Manager Michael J. Beck said in a statement released today.

The city has undergone a comprehensive internal financial and personnel audit, changed or increased oversight for many of its financial processes and initiated most of the recommendations announced last year by a citizen advisory task force on financial administration and internal controls, city officials said.

The alleged embezzlement was discovered in 2014 after the city ordered an audit.

According to the city, the audit found that Danny Wooten — a 12-year city employee — submitted as many as 296 phony invoices to the city.

Criminal charges were filed in 2014 against Wooten and two others, who are awaiting a March 9 hearing to determine if there is enough evidence to require them to stand trial.

Wooten, a 52-year-old former management analyst for Pasadena’s Public Works Department, 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 and five felony counts of filing a false tax return.

Tyrone Collins, 56, 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 million to Collins.

Melody Jenkins, 47, 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.

Wooten is also suspected of setting up bank accounts in his name and directing city money to two churches with which he was affiliated, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.

The criminal case involves allegations that more than $6 million in city money was embezzled over a decade.

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.

Wooten was fired by the city July 25 for “personnel matters unrelated to the investigation,” according to the city.

“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,” Beck said shortly after Wooten was arrested. “We will use this experience to reinforce our commitment to good governance through our policies and procedures.”

Last June, the city filed a civil lawsuit against Wooten and his wife, Collins and his company, Jenkins and the two religious organizations with which Wooten was allegedly affiliated. That lawsuit is still pending.

“The city will continue to pursue legal means necessary to obtain a full recovery of the monies stolen,” said City Attorney/City Prosecutor Michele Beal Bagneris.

–City News Service

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