Late last month, in the wake of receiving a final demand letter from the California Attorney General’s Office for the county’s long-overdue 2019/20 Financial Transactions Report (FTR), Humboldt County Auditor-Controller Karen Paz Dominguez issued a message to taxpayers alleging, among other things, that by decentralizing financial and accounting operations, the county paved the way for decades of fiscal mismanagement leading to “confirmed cases of error and fraud.”
A few days later, at the March 1 Board of Supervisors meeting, she elaborated in an oral report, leveling a series of allegations — or “findings” — against several county departments.
The Outpost has begun investigating those allegations, and today we’re taking a closer look at the charges she made against the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office.
Specifically, Paz Dominguez alleged to the board that in reviewing the Sheriff’s Office, she and her staff found that:
- the county made a payment for a donated vehicle,
- a previously disposed vehicle resurfaced for sale, and
- cash had been deposited of “sources unknown.”
We reached out to the Sheriff’s Office for a response. Public Information Specialist Samantha Karges said that the office hasn’t been provided with any details about the allegations.
“We are deeply disturbed that the Auditor-Controller would level unsubstantiated claims at county employees, without following due process to report these issues formally so that an investigation can occur,” she said in an email. “This situation has caused undue distress on our employees who work directly with the Auditor-Controller’s Office.”
Regarding the allegation of a payment made for a donated vehicle, a staff report from an Aug. 17, 2021, Board of Supervisors meeting documents the donation. According to the report, the Center to Combat Human Trafficking donated a truck to each of five Northern California counties “as part of a collective effort to combat human trafficking in the Northern California region.”
The vehicle, a Ford F250 4x4 crew cab pickup, needed to be registered, and Karges said the associated costs were the responsibility of the Sheriff’s Office.
“At the time, a request was made to the Auditor-Controller’s Office to issue a check to pay for the State Use Tax,” Karges said. “When staff went to register the vehicle, DMV advised the Use Tax was not applicable for the donated vehicle and staff returned the check to the Auditor-Controller’s Office uncashed.”
There’s no reason for that to have been considered a “finding,” Karges said. “However,” she added, “we welcome additional information from the Auditor-Controller’s Office.”
As for the
payment made for a donated vehicle previously disposed vehicle, Karges said this was an out-of-service truck that had been sitting on county-leased property for approximately four to five years.
“In January of 2021,” she said, “our deputies were working on clearing out old, unused equipment at that property and reached out to Deputy Director [of Financial & Support Services Regina] Fuller for authorization to dispose of this truck.”
The Auditor-Controller’s records showed that the truck had been acquired though asset seizure and recorded as “disposed” back in June of 2008 with a disposal method listed as “other,” Karges explained.
“The truck was determined to not have enough value to attempt to sell, and after consulting with County Purchasing and County Public Works, the truck was salvaged on 3/2/2021,” she said, adding that the truck was taken by John’s Used Cars and Auto Wreckers on Jacob’s Avenue.
“After hearing about this potential audit finding [at the March 1 meeting], Deputy Director Fuller reached out to the Auditor-Controller’s Office on 3/4/2022 requesting any documentation the Auditor-Controller might have about the circumstances of the asset disposal in 2008,” Karges said. “To date we have not heard back from the Auditor-Controller’s Office.”
As for the allegation of “cash deposited from sources unknown,” Karges replied, “[W]e haven’t been provided any identifying information from the Auditor-Controller’s Office about this finding and therefore are unable to respond.”
Karges’s response included the following statement:
The Sheriff’s Office asserts that a county Audit provides accountability and transparency essential to maintain trust of our community. We have maintained a spirit of cooperation with the Auditor-Controller’s Office and welcome the oversight and objective analysis of the Sheriff’s Office finances and budget.
We would have hoped to have been contacted by the Auditor-Controller regarding the three findings listed above so we could have a chance to ask questions and respond. It is essential that if trust is to be maintained in County Government, that the auditor needs to work with the competent county staff in an objective way to improve the processes. We welcome the independence, accountability and any opportunity to improve County operations and services.
Again, we welcome additional information from the Auditor-Controller’s Office and encourage the Auditor-Controller to follow due process in reporting any findings she believes violate law.
We’d like to remind the Auditor-Controller that the Sheriff’s Office, District Attorney and the CA Attorney General have criminal investigating authority over County Fraud cases. If the Auditor-Controller has information regarding criminal fraud, theft of public funds or misappropriation of Government Funds, that information needs to be reported to an investigative agency as soon as practical.
Refusal or delaying to provide documentation of any criminal activity is considered Obstruction of Justice and is a violation of the California Penal Code.