News

SamTrans sued by former accountant

By Barbara Wood

Special to the Almanac

Ling La, a former accountant for the San Mateo County Transit District, has sued the district and her former bosses, district CEO Michael Scanlon and manager Sheila Tioyao, whom Ms. La alleges fired her in retaliation for whistleblowing complaints about improper accounting practices.

Last year another former SamTrans accountant accused the transit district of manipulating public funds by logging false or exaggerated expenses, thereby creating a slush fund to spend on unbudgeted items.

San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said his office is investigating the allegations. "A forensic audit is required and such audits take months," he said. "So there will not be any conclusion quickly. I cannot estimate a time for conclusion at this point."

Ms. La's lawsuit, filed in federal court on April 16, alleges she was fired after repeatedly trying to get district and county officials to investigate her complaints.

SamTrans Communications Manager Jayme Ackemann said the district doesn't comment on pending litigation. After Ms. La's earlier complaints, Ms. Ackemann said, the district hired an independent employment investigator to look into her allegations.

Two reports from that investigator, Pacifica-based Employment Practices, issued in May 2013, found the district not at fault and don't uphold the allegations of workplace harassment, defamation, retaliation or racial discrimination.

Ms. La's lawsuit does not ask for a specific amount of money, but it does ask for payment of lost wages and "punitive damages in an amount sufficient to punish Scanlon and Tioyao, and deter future unlawful conduct."

According to the lawsuit, she started working for SamTrans in 2011 as a senior accountant. Trouble began after Ms. La transferred in 2012 to the general ledger and accounts payable division, according to her lawsuit, when she "began to suspect collusion between the (SamTrans) buyer and the parts vendors" over high freight charges.

Later, the lawsuit claims, Ms. Tioyao asked her to improperly book an expense as occurring two years earlier than it actually did.

The lawsuit lists a long series of attempts by Ms. La to get anyone to listen to her allegations, including a call to the county's "Whistleblower Hotline." She "was consistently dismissed or told no investigative action would be pursued," the suit says. The complaints led "to a pattern of adverse employment actions, including negative performance reviews, probation, personal surveillance, and termination."

In July 2013 Ms. La contacted a television news reporter, the San Mateo County Controller's Office, the grand jury and several county supervisors. Less than a month later, after the reporter began investigating the allegations, Ms. La was fired, according to the lawsuit.

The case has been assigned to Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley, and a case management conference is scheduled for Aug. 21.

Comments

 +   Like this comment
Posted by Michael G. Stogner
a resident of another community
on Apr 22, 2014 at 12:52 pm

This is one reason I support Comprehensive Compliance Reviews and Audits of all departments in the county including the Supervisors.

Why has it taken 11 months for the District Attorney Office to determine if a crime has been committed or not.
Should Steve Wagstaffe have recused himself, because of the Service League of San Mateo County, connection between himself a member and Mike Scanlon the President.

How many days should it take a competent department to determine this?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Dane
a resident of Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
on Apr 22, 2014 at 11:25 pm

I'm sure maximum effort will be expended to find out the untruth.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Whoa!
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Apr 24, 2014 at 8:11 am

NBC investigative team has a new story up today. I must say they are really digging into this, and doing it very well.

Web Link

Excerpt:

Ackemann says the district hired independent investigator Allison West to review all of La's personnel complaints and sided with the district.
"We're confident in the work of the independent investigator. We believe the findings speak for themselves and we look forward to the opportunity to review them further in court," Ackemann said.

The NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit reviewed West's findings and discovered the independent investigator was not asked to review La's claims of fake expenses and improper payments.

Emails from La show that when she tried to bring them to West's attention, she was told "The issue is beyond the scope of my investigation."

And


"San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe says he is recommending an independent forensic audit on the accounts and transactions highlighted by David Ramires and La, but so far an auditor has not been named."

Keep digging, NBC!



 +   Like this comment
Posted by Michael G. Stogner
a resident of another community
on Apr 24, 2014 at 6:59 pm

FYI and small world Jayme Ackerman SamTrans spokesperson is County Manager John Maltbie's daughter.

Mike Scanlon's masters degree $43,000 who paid it and law firm expenses 5 times normal need to checked.

Good work NBC 11


 +   Like this comment
Posted by The plot thickens
a resident of Woodside: other
on Apr 25, 2014 at 6:22 am

And Carole Groom played a big hand in rehiring John Maltbie.

Web Link

Some may recall that Maltbie had a little run in with the law some years back, which was covered extensively by the papers.

That the San Mateo DA's office hasn't recused itself is a disgrace.


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