Ex-Pasadena Employee, Alleged Accomplices Deny Involvement in $6M Embezzlement Case

By Favot, Sarah | Pasadena Star-News, December 31, 2014 | Go to article overview

Ex-Pasadena Employee, Alleged Accomplices Deny Involvement in $6M Embezzlement Case


Favot, Sarah, Pasadena Star-News


LOS ANGELES » A former Pasadena Public Works employee, who also preaches in a Pomona evangelical church, and two others Wednesday appeared before a judge and denied involvement in a decade-long $6.4 million embezzlement scheme that targeted an obscure Pasadena improvement fund.

Danny Ray Wooten, 51, a preacher and former DPW program manager, Tyrone Collins, 55, an Altadena-based electrical contractor, and Pasadena resident Melody Jenkins, 46, Wooten's former assistant, pleaded not guilty at an arraignment in Los Angeles County Superior Court to 60 counts that include embezzlement, conflict of interest and misappropriation of public funds.

The amount of money allegedly lost by Pasadena is more than was embezzled by Robert Rizzo and members of the Bell City Council in a 2010 criminal case that resulted in a 12-year prison sentence for Rizzo.

Pasadena City Councilman Victor Gordo said Wednesday he wants to know if others were involved in the embezzlement scheme and called for the city to conduct a wider investigation. An audit of the fund Wooten allegedly skimmed could not determine if any other city employee was involved.

"We must determine if any other city employees were aware or acted as accomplices," Gordo said. "If the D.A. will not pursue (a further) investigation, the city must conduct its own investigation," he added. "I consider what's been done to be preliminary."

While residents Wednesday took to the Internet and called for the removal of City Manager Michael Beck, Gordo urged caution and said it's too early to come to conclusions about Beck's future.

"We will hold any and all employees accountable who failed to discover this or who were complicit," he said.

Los Angeles County District Attorney's investigators Tuesday arrested Wooten, Collins and Jenkins on suspicion of using a City Hall slush fund to enrich themselves and evangelical church organizations in Pomona and Pasadena.

Wooten, Collins and Jenkins, all of whom appeared Wednesday in Department 30 at the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center wearing street clothes, will be back in court for a preliminary hearing on Jan. 21.

Wooten is being held in lieu of $1,75 million bail. Collins is being held in lieu of $900,000 bail and Jenkins remained in custody Wednesday with bail set at $50,000.

Bail review hearings are scheduled for Collins and Jenkins on Jan. 9. It is likely they will have to prove the source of their bail money before being released, legal experts said.

The case against Wooten, Collins and Jenkins will rely on forged invoices, altered dollar amounts on city-issued checks and falsified signatures, according to city audit documents obtained by this news group.

The audit found that Wooten, who had the authority to authorize payments from the fund designated for the city's project to underground utilities, was not properly supervised.

Court records show Wooten had a criminal record that included a 1997 conviction for battery. He was arrested on suspicion of theft in 1997, but the charges were dismissed. Wooten was hired in 2002. Over the years Wooten's supervisors chronicled several run-ins with him, according to the audit.

"Continued authority and responsibility (was) given to an employee identified as having performance-related issues and concerns," the audit said.

The documents show city officials paid invoices written by Wooten for Collins and two church groups Wooten is associated with - the Southern California Evangelistic Jurisdiction Center on East Villa Street in Pasadena and the New Covenant Christian Fellowship Center in on North Garey Avenue in Pomona - even though those invoices allegedly lacked sufficient information and documentation.

Wooten is suspected of writing invoices for work that hadn't begun and in some cases was not scheduled to start until 2017, the audit claimed. …

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