Above the Law

Michael Lee, L.A. Rec and Parks Employee, Allegedly Stole 800 Gallons From City Pumps; $6.9 Million in Gas Still Missing

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Tue, May 22, 2012 at 12:15 PM

click to enlarge As if city leaders aren't doing the same. - NOAH PATRICK PFARR
  • As if city leaders aren't doing the same.
So the LAPD just nabbed one (allegedly) conniving city employee on suspicion of "stealing more than 800 gallons of gasoline over a three month period of time" and selling it on the black market.

Michael Anthony Lee, a 12-year veteran of the Department of Recreation and Parks who worked at the Algin Sutton Recreation Center, was jailed along with L.A. resident Shane Anthony Gansterer yesterday.

But what about the $6.9 million in taxpayer-funded city gas that remains unaccounted for?

L.A. City Controller Wendy Greuel released an audit at the end of March showing that around $7 million in fuel costs have gone unexplained at City Hall.

Greuel laid out all the ways that city employees can fill up their tanks without any sort of oversight.

For example, she found that about $1.2 million in gas had been dispensed via "bypass transactions" ("when a locked panel is removed and an electronic switch is deactivated from a fuel control terminal") and $3.9 million had been dispensed via "keypad entry" ("when a City employee at a LAPD fuel site uses the override button, and is only required to input a vehicle number to obtain fuel").

Final Fuel Use Report 3-29-12 (1)

Shannon Murphy, a spokeswoman for Greuel, says that the LAPD briefed the controller's office on the arrests yesterday. According to that briefing, a civilian called the Southeast Division after seeing the audit in the news and tipped cops off that someone in the area might have been selling city gas out of a truck.

The LAPD's own report says:

In April 2012 Southeast Detectives received information that someone was stealing gasoline from City fueling facilities and the suspect was possibly a Los Angeles City Department of Recreation and Parks employee. Surveillance was set up on fuel stations at Southeast and 77th Street Area Community Police Stations and a Department of Transportation fueling site. After many hours of surveillance two suspects were identified.

Based on the above information, it looks like this guy Lee, a city gardener making under $50,000 per year, decided to say "F you" to his employer and take advantage of the completely unaccountable city-gas system, making off with around $3,500 in liquid gold.

But how convenient for city officials! We can't imagine a more perfect underling to hang in the public square -- a nobody from Rec and Parks who saw a loophole and stupidly stumbled through it.

That way, none of the six-figure city staffers who have clearly been freeloading at over 70 free fuel spots across Los Angeles have to be hauled away in cuffs, and it looks like City Hall/LAPD officials are doing something about the $7 million problem.

Murphy, Greuel's spokeswoman, says that when an audit is issued, the department in question typically has "30 to 45 days" to respond.

Fifty-five days later, the General Services Department (whom Greuel is blaming for lack of oversight) has yet to do anything about the audit. It called for, among other things, a "fuel task force" to come up with "general guidelines for controlling and monitoring fuel use."

Murphy says the L.A. City Council will also be discussing the problem soon.

Meanwhile, council members themselves juice their city-funded rides in a V.I.P. fueling station underneath City Hall, with no apparent system in place to separate work-related gas from personal.

Here, a comforting bite from Hillel Aron's "L.A. Overspends by $27,378 an Hour," which ran this month in LA Weekly:

Take, for example, the full-service gas station across the street, in the underground City Hall East parking garage, complete with two fuel pumps and a car wash, responsible for serving what is widely known to city politicians, city officials and their aides as the "Executive Fleet."

The Executive Fleet is composed of more than 200 city-owned vehicles reserved for elected officials, their staffers and assorted department heads. The cars, which are supposed to be used strictly for city business, come with free maintenance -- and free gas.

Just because City Hall execs didn't desperately siphon 800 gallons and sell it for street cash doesn't mean their hands are clean of embezzlement.

[@simone_electra / swilson@laweekly.com / @LAWeeklyNews]

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