Allegations of theft spark district audit of CalWORKs department.


Julia Kinkela

Pamela Smith speaks out against what she calls misuse of financial aid funds.

Keith Montes, Senior staff member

Allegations of a student worker stealing gas cards and falsifying time cards sparked a district internal investigation of the California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids (CalWORKs) department at DVC during the fall 2012 semester.

The internal auditing report and executive summary dated January 31, 2013 investigating claims made by administration of justice major Pamela Smith, was obtained by The Inquirer through a California Public Records Act request.

The internal audit report concluded the student worker did not steal gas cards or falsify time cards, but it did identify inappropriate tracking and distribution of gas cards, inadequate tracking and review of the CalWORKs department’s student-worker hours and the inappropriate mentoring of CalWORKs students.

The internal audit report states that, “Although IAS (Internal Auditing Services) was unable to validate this claim, due to lack of documentation/tracking of the student-worker hours, it was apparent that the current time management process was ineffective and could encourage such behavior.”

Former CalWORKs student worker and ethnic studies major Myia Belcher worked in the CalWORKs department from December 2011 to May 2012 and had interacted with Smith in the office.

Belcher contradicted the district internal audit report, stating she had witnessed the student worker in question falsifying their hand-written time card on more than one occasion.

According to Belcher, the student worker would regularly leave approximately thirty minutes before their schedule was over but would record they had stayed the entire length of their shift when filling out their time card.

“I believe on at least one (monthly) time card, that there was at least twenty hours that she did not really work…It was like a known thing to people (in the CalWORKs department) that she’s never (there) but she (was) getting paid,” said Belcher.

The CalWORKs Department has now implemented a student worker time-clock tracking system which will be verified by the CalWORKs coordinator on a daily basis as per a recommendation made in the audit report.

Dean of Student Services Emily Stone was contacted by The Inquirer for comment and referred questions about the internal audit report to the district public information officer.

Smith filed the original complaint with the district police department, which initiated the internal investigation, after hearing a student worker was using the gas cards for their personal use according to a police report filed with the district police.

Smith also claimed the same person was falsifying their time card and was collecting money for time they did not work.

According to the police report, Smith claimed her paperwork had been mishandled. She had attempted to submit paperwork for childcare assistance to the student worker in question on three separate occasions during the spring 2012 semester but was denied. She was told that the CalWORKs department was not accepting applications at that time.

Smith made an additional attempt to secure childcare by submitting her paperwork during the summer break of 2012 but due to the childcare assistance application not being submitted early enough, there were no more spaces available. Smith eventually withdrew from her summer classes and had to let a paying internship with the juvenile correctional program in Martinez go because she was unable to find affordable childcare while attending school and working, said Smith.

According to Det. Thomas Holt of the district police, after receiving the complaint from Smith, Corp. Kathryn McDonald contacted Stone and was informed that an internal investigation showed no evidence of theft.

“McDonald felt it was some sort of retaliation because she was getting denied some kind of financial aid… (the District) had investigated it and we found no crime,” said Det. Holt.

Smith had originally shared her concerns with Stone but believed there was an attempt being made to conceal the allegations.

According to the district police report, “Smith feels Stone lied to her indicating a cover-up of issues within the department.”

Aderonke Olatunji, director of the district internal auditing department performed the investigation at the request of Stone and DVC President Peter Garcia.

As a condition of Smith being interviewed by Olantunji, Smith requested that DVC professor and Concord Police Sergeant Matthew Morrissey be allowed to attend the interview session as a support person.

Vice Chancellor of Human Resources Gene Huff called Morrissey to discuss his role in the investigation.

“It would be very unusual… it just didn’t make sense as to why Matt was involved in the matter as an advocate… he’s not a student services person, he’s not a union person,”

Huff clarified that Morrisey was not disallowed from participating in the investigation.

Olatunji never interviewed Smith due to Morrissey not participating in the interview.

When asked about the details of the audit, the District Director of Communications and Community Relations Timothy Leong said, “…for us to talk about what procedures have been put in place is kind of like telling people where the extra key is held in the room… so we don’t talk about the investigation, the internal audit investigation, to that extent… I have to draw a line in terms of naming individuals’ names and identifying the exact procedural changes that were made.”

According to the internal audit obtained by The Inquirer, “Gas cards were being distributed at the CalWORKs Coordinator’s discretion; and were being issued to CalWORKs student-workers as gifts (a token of appreciation for work done) and raffle prizes won during the 2012SP CalWORKs back-to-school orientation.”

Furthermore, the report stated that “The dean (Stone) immediately advised the CalWORKs Coordinator that this was not permissible and considered a gift of public funds. The CalWORKs Coordinator expressed genuine remorse and lack of understanding, and refunded the program by purchasing four gas cards with his own funds.”

To ensure more accurate tracking of gas cards, “The gas card distribution sheet, originally created for the CARE gas card distribution and tracking process, will be utilized for the distribution of the remaining CalWORKs gas cards.” according to the internal audit report.

The internal audit report stated that the CalWORKs coordinator also admitted to not following the directives of Stone to mentor student workers before dismissing them from the CalWORKs department.

According to the internal audit report, the CalWORKs coordinator stated that he had provided the dismissed employee with an opportunity to correct their “incessantly chatty, unprofessional and gossipy,” behavior as directed by Dean Stone.

The CalWORKs coordinator admitted he did not provide this mentorship because the student worker “was such a lightning rod and I was afraid of what would happen if I tried to broach the topic,” and instead informed the employee there were no hours available, according to the internal audit report.

Belcher was also informed she was being dismissed due to lack of available student worker hours but according to the internal audit report, she was released in part because she “seemed disengaged.”

CalWORKs coordinator Mark Mithawala was contacted by the Inquirer and declined to comment.

The recommendations made by the district internal audit report are scheduled to be fully implemented by spring 2013.

Smith wished for others who are suspicious of any wrong doings within a department on campus to speak up.

“I would tell them to be a voice… don’t be quiet, don’t keep it a secret, let someone know,” said Smith.


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