- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 15, 2014

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) - A gritty Los Angeles suburb targeted in a federal corruption probe had virtually no controls over how taxpayer money was spent, opening the way for officials to run up credit-card bills and take questionable leave time that in one case nearly doubled an employee’s salary, state audits found Tuesday.

Among the problems in the small city of Cudahy, auditors found nearly $23 million in redevelopment funds had been improperly transferred to two city entities.

The city “displayed little regard for fundamental accounting and fiscal management practices necessary to promote transparency and protect taxpayer dollars,” state Controller John Chiang said in a statement.

“The few rules that did exist were not followed and questionable spending was rampant,” said Chiang, who ordered the return of the redevelopment funds.

Three audits, covering the period from July 2010 to June 2012, depicted a rogue government where books were out of balance, officials increased their pay with dubious leave time and nearly half the charges on city credit cards were judged “questionable,” including for meals and hotels.

Auditors found the community services director earned $214,000 in 2012, with nearly half the pay claimed from leave time. The bookkeeping was so disorganized that it was difficult to determine how the pay was calculated or if it was valid, they said.

City officials requested the audits after some of their predecessors were snagged in a federal corruption investigation. Former Mayor David Silva, a former councilman and another official were convicted for their roles in the payment of cash bribes from a businessman in exchange for supporting a marijuana dispensary.

Cudahy is among a group of struggling cities southeast of downtown Los Angeles that have seen a string of corruption convictions, including in Bell, which became a byword for government abuses.

On Monday, Bell’s former city manager was sentenced in federal court to 33 months in prison for income tax evasion. Robert Rizzo, 60, pleaded guilty in January to conspiracy and filing a false federal income tax return. He also has pleaded no contest to 69 counts of fraud, misappropriation of public funds, falsification of public records and other charges. He is due to be sentenced in state court on those charges Wednesday.

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