Hot on the tail of San Diego's meter-reading scandal comes word that at least two city Public Utilities Department workers have illegally used Disabled Person Placards to park in handicapped spaces, and similar abuse may be common among other employees.
"Two unrelated PUD employees were issued citations for Disabled Person Placard violations during an enforcement operation that we requested," says a May 16 memo from city auditor Eduardo Luna Assistant Chief Operating Officer Stacey LoMedico. "We obtained additional evidence indicating that this is a Citywide problem."
The two unidentified workers repeatedly lied to both auditors and utility department officials during earlier investigations triggered by complaints to the auditor's fraud hotline, according to the report.
"PUD management obtained documentation and statements from the employees that appeared to confirm that the placards were valid and issued to them,” the memo says. "During our interviews with the subject employees, both stated on multiple occasions that the permanent placards they were using were issued in their names."
But when Luna's team dug into state motor vehicle records, a trove of incriminating information emerged.
"We identified additional investigative questions and conducted our own investigation to obtain information directly from California Department of Motor Vehicles records to determine whether the identified placards were, in fact, issued to the two named employees."
The conclusion: "The placards in use by both employees were issued to other people who were not being transported in the vehicles. Both employees provided false documentation to PUD management when questioned about the validity of their placards on two separate occasions."
Also, "when questioned by Law Enforcement, one of the subject employees from our investigation provided false documentation that incorrectly identified themselves as the person to whom the permanent placard had been issued in order to avoid accountability."
In addition to the original targets, "two citations were issued to other PUD employees at the same City facility that was the focus of our investigation. One employee failed to display a placard and the other used a placard that was not issued to them. The penalties and fees amounted to $452.50 and $826.50, respectively."
According to the report, San Diego police say "there is a significant problem with City employees who illegally park in Disabled Persons’ parking spaces at City-owned facilities. Although SDPD does not maintain records showing requests for investigation by City departments, anecdotal evidence, and this investigation, support the need for a Citywide policy to deter City employees from illegally parking in spaces designated for people with disabilities."
Luna recommended taking "appropriate corrective action" against the two workers, along with "installation of appropriate signage and striping at the identified City facility to ensure that Disabled Person Placard violations are enforceable."
The auditor also suggested that the city "evaluate City employees’ use of Disabled Persons' parking spaces at City facilities to determine if there should be a policy in order to deter fraud, save Law Enforcement resources, and identify the need for Disabled Persons’ parking spaces."
According to the report, management "agreed to implement all three recommendations," with a draft enforcement policy due by June of next year.