Sunday, September 2, 2012

Sacramento police check officials' unusual credit card purchases - Sacramento Bee

In a sign that the city's credit card scandal could broaden, Sacramento police are examining suspicious credit card transactions within the offices of the city's elected officials, Police Chief Rick Braziel told The Bee.

Those transactions are in addition to the purchases made by former mayoral aide Lisa Serna-Mayorga, who resigned in July after it was alleged that she had used her city-issued credit card to make personal purchases. Sources have told The Bee that Serna-Mayorga reimbursed the city for $9,000 in credit card purchases that included a trip to Disneyland, gasoline and groceries.

Serna-Mayorga â€" the former City Council operations manager who later worked briefly as Mayor Kevin Johnson's director of constituent affairs â€" is under criminal investigation by the Police Department. So far, she is the only city employee under investigation, although police are looking at other credit card accounts, Braziel said.

"There are transactions that are suspicious in the mayor and council offices that we just need to look at," Braziel said.

Police officials have declined to release credit card data for the council and mayor offices as the criminal investigation of Serna-Mayorga unfolds. Braziel said investigators were waiting to receive data from vendors whose goods were purchased by those credit cards before determining which transactions â€" if any â€" were illegal.

At the same time, city officials are confident that credit cards used by hundreds of other city employees over the past five years were not abused.

City Manager John Shirey said a review of nearly 48,000 credit card transactions going back to 2007 "did not yield anything that involves criminal wrongdoing." Those purchases were examined by city department heads, as well as financial experts and criminal investigators with the Police Department, according to Braziel.

Asked how confident he was that the cards were not abused, Shirey responded that the city "did a thorough review."

Still, Shirey said the city would likely cut back on credit cards.

Over the past five years, city employees made roughly $9.6 million in purchases on their city-issued cards, according to a Bee analysis of transactions obtained through a Public Records Act request. They bought office supplies, paid for conference fees and purchased gadgets and gifts for youth programs.

Shirey said the city has "learned something through this process."

"We need to tighten our use of credit cards and our policies (governing the use of the cards)," he said. "I know we're going to end up with fewer cards. It seems to me there were just a lot of transactions."

Right now, 226 city workers have credit cards. Shirey said he would initiate new credit card policies in coming weeks.

The department with the highest credit card bill over the past five years was Parks and Recreation, with 21,664 purchases totaling more than $3.4 million, records show.

"Some might look a little strange, but they were for recreation-related activities," Shirey said.

Employees with the city's Department of General Services made $1.7 million in purchases, while police officials made just over $1 million in transactions, records show.

City Auditor Jorge Oseguera has begun his own examination of citywide credit card use. That report is expected to be completed in about two months.

An outside firm is also auditing the credit card use by employees in the offices of the mayor and the eight members of the City Council.

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Call The Bee's Ryan Lillis, (916) 321-1085. Read his City Beat blog at sacbee.com/citybeat.

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