State Attorney General to Investigate Modoc County
Criminal investigators from the state Attorney General’s Office (AG) are coming to Modoc County next week to launch their probe into the county’s $20 million misappropriation of treasury funds.
The inquiry into the county’s financial practices, which could have statewide repercussions, may also lead to felony charges against county officials, according to a source familiar with AG procedures who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The investigators are expected to begin interviewing top level county officials, including members of the Board of Supervisors April 17, in the first phase of what is anticipated to be an initial two-week search for evidence and documents, according to the source who said there are a number of reasons for the AG’s investigation.
Attorney General Kamala Harris believes she has an ethical and moral obligation to investigate treasury misappropriations, and it does not matter how small the county. If county officials commit a felony Harris believes they should be held accountable.
(This is contrary to DA Christopher Brooke who has declined requests of past Modoc County Grand Juries to prosecute various county officials, saying he has no criminal basis to do so.)
The statute of limitations for prosecutions is four years. The AG considers the “point of discovery” as 2009, when former CAO Mark Charlton went public with his disclosure that county officials had been misappropriating treasury funds for years. There is one year left in the four-year statute of limitations.
County supervisors throughout California have been following Modoc County’s fiscal developments on the Modoc Independent News blog and are instructing their administrators to see if they too, can use restricted funds illegally and get away with it.
County administrators are reporting to the State Controllers Office their concerns that their boards of supervisors will try the same tactics as Modoc County, which they see as illegal.
“Attorney General Harris knows this and has told her staff that what the people in Modoc County are doing is wrong,” the source said. “She says it’s a felony, and that she has an obligation to investigate. Also, she knows that other large cities and counties are thinking of doing this.”
Modoc County is going to be used by the AG an example to send a message to other counties and municipalities that illegal use of treasury funds is not going to be tolerated.
Modoc County CAO Chester Robertson, when asked by the Modoc Independent News to confirm the AG investigation, dodged a direct answer saying he had placed a call to the AG's office and had not heard back from them.
“They have not contacted my office or the county offices,” Robertson said. “I heard they are coming, but I don’t have specifics because they have not contacted my office.”
Even so, Robertson did say he has advised members of the Board of Supervisors of the impending investigation and that they may be interviewed.
He did say he wanted to know “what the AG investigation meant to the county, what the intentions of the AG were and what the implications of these allegations meant to local officials.
“Woolverton hasn’t said specifically why they are coming,” Robertson said, referring questions to Gary Woolverton, former Modoc County district attorney, who Robertson said the AG notified rather than his office that it was starting its investigation.
Woolverton drafted the initial “performance bond claim” alleging various county officials were responsible for the misappropriation. Calls left with Woolverton’s office were not immediately returned.
The impending investigation was confirmed by Supervisor Dave Allan, who said the county was notified on April 11 of the AG’s intention to meet with county officials.
"The Attorney General's office is coming on Tuesday,” Allan said. “They say they're going to talk to people and write a report."
Allan said he, Robertson, Supervisor Loren “Shorty” Crabtree and Woolverton met April 11, the same day Woolverton informed them of the investigation to discuss their preparation for the AG meeting. He did not specifically say what the county’s plan was for working with the AG investigators.
Various county department heads are speculating among themselves as to why the AG investigators have chosen April 17 to begin their interviews and document search because that is the day Auditor Darcy Locken, Treasurer Cheryl Knoch and Robertson wrap up their “pay ourselves back“ special session workshop with the Board of Supervisors.
A surprised Locken told the Modoc Independent News that she had not been notified by Robertson that an AG investigation would start next week.
-- Ray A. March
Editor’s Note: Barbara March, publisher of the Modoc Independent News and this blog, contributed to this article.