Three Big Blue Bus employees were arrested April 15 on charges arising out of major irregularities discovered in a City Finance Department audit of the Rideshare program that provides EZ bus passes to City employees who commute by public transportation. The EZ passes cover not only the Blue Bus, but all bus systems in the Los Angeles area.Motor coach operator supervisor Crystal L. Buckner and transit operations assistant Kalin J. Green were charged with grand theft, and motor coach operator Michael L. Brown was charged with petty theft. They are awaiting a May 15 arraignment in Los Angeles Superior Court.The irregularities came to light in a random internal audit which included a review of the Rideshare program. The Finance Department discovered irregularities in Transit Club forms as well as a lack of effective internal controls. As a result of the audit team’s findings, City Manager P. Lamont Ewell called for a full Police Department investigation that was initiated on March 2. As a result of that investigation, Santa Monica police made the April 15 arrests.The internal audit was a part of Ewell’s restructuring of City operations begun two years ago that has discovered double collection of fines on parking citations. That has resulted in changes in the handling of cash and other improvements, including the placement of cameras in the downtown parking structures, said Assistant to the City Manager Kathryn Vernez. Also as a result of that restructuring, the City has hired a full-time internal auditor who begins work June 1.In the wake of these charges, the Rideshare program has been moved from the Transportation Management Division, a part of the Planning and Community Development Department, which primarily is responsible for planning and managing all modes of transportation to keep the city moving. The program is now administered by Human Resources, which oversees the various aspects of employee compensation and benefits.City staff has now implemented more extensive and stringent controls, Vernez said, including confirmation of employees’ status and their need for passes to commute by public transit, and the provision of verifiable information that auditors and managers can use in ongoing audits.The new internal auditor is Martin Kolkin, who comes from a background in internal auditing and accounting in the public sector, most recently serving as internal auditor for the City of Sacramento since 2003. He will be working in the Santa Monica Finance Department with department director Carol Swindell.
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